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PloS One


Surfactant protein A (SP-A) is an important lung innate immune protein that kills microbial pathogens by opsonization and membrane permeabilization. We investigated the basis of SP-A-mediated pulmonary clearance of Pseudomonas aeruginosa using genetically-engineered SP-A mice and a library of signature-tagged P. aeruginosa mutants. A mutant with an insertion into flgE, the gene that encodes flagellar hook protein, was preferentially cleared by the SP-A(+/+) mice, but survived in the SP-A(-/-) mice. Opsonization by SP-A did not play a role in flgE clearance. However, exposure to SP-A directly permeabilized and killed the flgE mutant, but not the wild-type parental strain. P. aeruginosa strains with mutation in other flagellar genes, as well as mucoid, nonmotile isolates from cystic fibrosis patients, were also permeabilized by SP-A. Provision of the wild-type fliC gene restored the resistance to SP-A-mediated membrane permeabilization in the fliC-deficient bacteria. In addition, non-mucoid, motile revertants of CF isolates reacquired resistance to SP-A-mediated membrane permeability. Resistance to SP-A was dependent on the presence of an intact flagellar structure, and independent of flagellar-dependent motility. We provide evidence that flagellar-deficient mutants harbor inadequate amounts of LPS required to resist membrane permeabilization by SP-A and cellular lysis by detergent targeting bacterial outer membranes. Thus, the flagellum of P. aeruginosa plays an indirect but important role resisting SP-A-mediated clearance and membrane permeabilization.