Background. Maternal vaginal colonization with Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus [GBS]) is a precursor to chorioamnionitis, fetal infection, and neonatal sepsis, but the understanding of specific factors in the pathogenesis of ascending infection remains limited.
Methods. We used a new murine model to evaluate the contribution of the pore-forming GBS β-hemolysin/cytolysin (βH/C) to vaginal colonization, ascension, and fetal infection.
Results. Competition assays demonstrated a marked advantage to βH/C-expressing GBS during colonization. Intrauterine fetal demise and/or preterm birth were observed in 54% of pregnant mice colonized with wild-type (WT) GBS and 0% of those colonized with the toxin-deficient cylE knockout strain, despite efficient colonization and ascension by both strains. Robust placental inflammation, disruption of maternal-fetal barriers, and fetal infection were more frequent in animals colonized with WT bacteria. Histopathologic examination revealed bacterial tropism for fetal lung and liver.
Conclusions. Preterm birth and fetal demise are likely the direct result of toxin-induced damage and inflammation rather than differences in efficiency of ascension into the upper genital tract. These data demonstrate a distinct contribution of βH/C to GBS chorioamnionitis and subsequent fetal infection in vivo and showcase a model for this most proximal step in GBS pathogenesis.