ABSTRACT

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common polymicrobial imbalance of the vaginal flora associated with a wide variety of obstetric and gynecologic complications including serious infections and preterm birth. As evidenced by high recurrence rates following treatment, interventions for BV are still lacking. Several hydrolytic activities, including glycosidases and proteases, have been previously correlated with BV and have been hypothesized to degrade host sialoglycoproteins that participate in mucosal immune functions. Sialidase activity is most predictive of BV status and correlates strongly with adverse health outcomes. Here we combine clinical specimens with biochemical approaches to investigate secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) as a substrate of BV-associated glycosidases and proteases. We show that BV clinical specimens hydrolyze sialic acid from SIgA, but not in the presence of the sialidase inhibitor dehydro-deoxy-sialic acid. The collective action of BV-associated glycosidases exposes underlying mannose residues of SIgA, most apparent on the heavily N-glycosylated secretory component of the antibody. Terminal sialic acid residues on SIgA protect underlying carbohydrate residues from exposure and hydrolysis by exoglycosidases (galactosidase and hexosaminidase). It is known that both IgG and SIgA are present in the human reproductive tract. We show that the IgG heavy chain is more susceptible to proteolysis than its IgA counterpart. Gentle partial deglycosylation of the SIgA secretory component enhanced susceptibility to proteolysis. Together, these data support a model of BV in which SIgA is subject to stepwise exodeglycosylation and enhanced proteolysis, likely compromising the ability of the reproductive mucosa to neutralize and eliminate pathogens.