The Neisseria type IV pilus promotes bacterial adhesion to host cells. The pilus binds CD46, a complement-regulatory glycoprotein present on nucleated human cells (Källström et al., 1997). CD46 mutants with truncated cytoplasmic tails fail to support bacterial adhesion (Källström et al., 2001), suggesting that this region of the molecule also plays an important role in infection. Here, we report that infection of human epithelial cells by piliated Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) leads to rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of CD46. Studies with wild-type and mutant tail fusion constructs demonstrate that Src kinase phosphorylates tyrosine 354 in the Cyt2 isoform of the CD46 cytoplasmic tail. Consistent with these findings, infection studies show that PP2, a specific Src family kinase inhibitor, but not PP3, an inactive variant of this drug, reduces the ability of epithelial cells to support bacterial adhesion. Several lines of evidence point to the role of c-Yes, a member of the Src family of nonreceptor tyrosine kinases, in CD46 phosphorylation. GC infection causes c-Yes to aggregate in the host cell cortex beneath adherent bacteria, increases binding of c-Yes to CD46, and stimulates c-Yes kinase activity. Finally, c-Yes immunoprecipitated from epithelial cells is able to phosphorylate the wild-type Cyt2 tail but not the mutant derivative in which tyrosine 354 has been substituted with alanine. We conclude that GC infection leads to rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of the CD46 Cyt2 tail and that the Src kinase c-Yes is involved in this reaction. Together, the findings reported here and elsewhere strongly suggest that pilus binding to CD46 is not a simple static process. Rather, they support a model in which pilus interaction with CD46 promotes signaling cascades important for Neisseria infectivity.
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