Gingipains, a group of arginine or lysine specific cysteine proteinases (also known as RgpA, RgpB and Kgp), have been recognized as major virulence factors in Porphyromonas gingivalis. This bacterium is one of a handful of pathogens that cause chronic periodontitis. Gingipains are involved in adherence to and colonization of epithelial cells, hemagglutination and hemolysis of erythrocytes, disruption and manipulation of the inflammatory response, and the degradation of host proteins and tissues. RgpA and Kgp are multi-domain proteins composed of catalytic domains and hemagglutinin/adhesin (HA) regions. The structure of the HA regions have previously been defined by a gingipain domain structure hypothesis which is a set of putative domain boundaries derived from the sequences of fragments of these proteins extracted from the cell surface. However, multiple sequence alignments and hidden Markov models predict an alternative domain architecture for the HA regions of gingipains. In this alternate model, two or three repeats of the socalled “cleaved adhesion” domains (and one other undefined domain in some strains) are the modules which constitute the substructure of the HA regions. Recombinant forms of these putative cleaved adhesin domains are indeed stable folded protein modules and recently determined crystal structures support the hypothesis of a modular organisation of the HA region. Based on the observed K2 and K3 structures as well as multiple sequence alignments, it is proposed that all the cleaved adhesin domains in gingipains will share the same β-sandwich jelly roll fold. The new domain model of the structure for gingipains and the Hag proteins of P. gingivalis will guide future functional studies of these virulence factors.
The crystal structure of the K1 domain, an adhesin module of the lysine gingipain (Kgp) expressed on the cell surface by the periodontopathic anaerobic bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis W83, is compared to the previously determined structures of homologues K2 and K3, all three being representative members of the cleaved adhesin domain family. In the structure of K1, the conformation of the most extensive surface loop is unexpectedly perturbed, perhaps by crystal packing, and is displaced from a previously reported arginine-anchored position observed in K2 and K3. This displacement allows the loop to become free to interact with other proteins; the alternate flipped-out loop conformation is a novel mechanism for interacting with target host proteins, other bacteria, or other gingipain protein domains. Further, the K1 adhesin module, like others, is found to be haemolytic in vitro, and so, functions in erythrocyte recognition thereby contributing to the haemolytic function of Kgp. K1 was also observed to selectively bind to haem-albumin with high affinity, suggesting this domain may be involved in gingipain-mediated haem acquisition from haem-albumin. Therefore, it is most likely that all cleaved adhesin domains of Kgp contribute to the pathogenicity of P. gingivalis in more complex ways than simply mediating bacterial adherence.