Microbial pathogens balance growth against tissue damage to achieve maximum fitness. Central carbon metabolism is connected to growth, but how it influences growth/damage balance is largely unknown. Here we examined how carbon flux through the exclusively fermentative metabolism of the pathogenic lactic acid bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes impacts patterns of growth and tissue damage. Using a murine model of soft tissue infection, we systematically examined single and pair-wise mutants that constrained carbon flux through the three major pathways that S. pyogenes employs for reduction of the glycolytic intermediate pyruvate, revealing distinct disease outcomes. Its canonical lactic acid pathway (via lactate dehydrogenase) made a minimal contribution to virulence. In contrast, its two parallel pathways for mixed-acid fermentation played important, but non-overlapping roles. Anaerobic mixed acid fermentation (via pyruvate formate lyase) was required for growth in tissue, while aerobic mixed-acid pathway (via pyruvate dehydrogenase) was not required for growth, but instead regulated levels of tissue damage. Infection of macrophages in vitro revealed that pyruvate dehydrogenase was required to prevent phagolysosomal acidification, which altered expression of the immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10. Infection of IL-10 deficient mice confirmed that the ability of aerobic metabolism to regulate levels of IL-10 plays a key role in the ability of S. pyogenes to modulate levels of tissue damage. Taken together, these results show critical non-overlapping roles for anaerobic and aerobic metabolism in soft tissue infection and provide a mechanism for how oxygen and carbon flux act coordinately to regulate growth/damage balance. Therapies targeting carbon flux could be developed to mitigate tissue damage during severe S. pyogenes infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011481
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


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