Imperial College London


Faculty of MedicineDepartment of Medicine

Honorary Research Associate







Flowers buildingSouth Kensington Campus





Publication Type

9 results found

Stapels DAC, Woehl JL, Milder FJ, Tromp AT, van Batenburg AA, de Graaf WC, Broll SC, White NM, Rooijakkers SHM, Geisbrecht BVet al., 2018, Evidence for multiple modes of neutrophil serine protease recognition by the EAP family of Staphylococcal innate immune evasion proteins., Protein Sci, Vol: 27, Pages: 509-522

Neutrophils contain high levels of chymotrypsin-like serine proteases (NSPs) within their azurophilic granules that have a multitude of functions within the immune system. In response, the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus has evolved three potent inhibitors (Eap, EapH1, and EapH2) that protect the bacterium as well as several of its secreted virulence factors from the degradative action of NSPs. We previously showed that these so-called EAP domain proteins represent a novel class of NSP inhibitors characterized by a non-covalent inhibitory mechanism and a distinct target specificity profile. Based upon high levels of structural homology amongst the EAP proteins and the NSPs, as well as supporting biochemical data, we predicted that the inhibited complex would be similar for all EAP/NSP pairs. However, we present here evidence that EapH1 and EapH2 bind the canonical NSP, Neutrophil Elastase (NE), in distinct orientations. We discovered that alteration of EapH1 residues at the EapH1/NE interface caused a dramatic loss of affinity and inhibition of NE, while mutation of equivalent positions in EapH2 had no effect on NE binding or inhibition. Surprisingly, mutation of residues in an altogether different region of EapH2 severely impacted both the NE binding and inhibitory properties of EapH2. Even though EapH1 and EapH2 bind and inhibit NE and a second NSP, Cathepsin G, equally well, neither of these proteins interacts with the structurally related, but non-proteolytic granule protein, azurocidin. These studies expand our understanding of EAP/NSP interactions and suggest that members of this immune evasion protein family are capable of diverse target recognition modes.


Saliba A-E, Li L, Westermann AJ, Appenzeller S, Stapels DAC, Schulte LN, Helaine S, Vogel Jet al., 2017, Single-cell RNA-seq ties macrophage polarization to growth rate of intracellular Salmonella, NATURE MICROBIOLOGY, Vol: 2, ISSN: 2058-5276


Kuipers A, Stapels DAC, Weerwind LT, Ko Y-P, Ruyken M, Lee JC, van Kessel KPM, Rooijakkers SHMet al., 2016, The Staphylococcus aureus polysaccharide capsule and Efb-dependent fibrinogen shield act in concert to protect against phagocytosis., Microbiology, Vol: 162, Pages: 1185-1194

Staphylococcus aureus has developed many mechanisms to escape from human immune responses. To resist phagocytic clearance, S. aureus expresses a polysaccharide capsule, which effectively masks the bacterial surface and surface-associated proteins, such as opsonins, from recognition by phagocytic cells. Additionally, secretion of the extracellular fibrinogen binding protein (Efb) potently blocks phagocytic uptake of the pathogen. Efb creates a fibrinogen shield surrounding the bacteria by simultaneously binding complement C3b and fibrinogen at the bacterial surface. By means of neutrophil phagocytosis assays with fluorescently labelled encapsulated serotype 5 (CP5) and serotype 8 (CP8) strains we compare the immune-modulating function of these shielding mechanisms. The data indicate that, in highly encapsulated S. aureus strains, the polysaccharide capsule is able to prevent phagocytic uptake at plasma concentrations <10 %, but loses its protective ability at higher concentrations of plasma. Interestingly, Efb shows a strong inhibitory effect on both capsule-negative and encapsulated strains at all tested plasma concentrations. Furthermore, the results suggest that both shielding mechanisms can exist simultaneously and collaborate to provide optimal protection against phagocytosis at a broad range of plasma concentrations. As opsonizing antibodies will be shielded from recognition by either mechanism, incorporating both capsular polysaccharides and Efb in future vaccines could be of great importance.


Stapels DAC, Kuipers A, von Köckritz-Blickwede M, Ruyken M, Tromp AT, Horsburgh MJ, de Haas CJC, van Strijp JAG, van Kessel KPM, Rooijakkers SHMet al., 2016, Staphylococcus aureus protects its immune-evasion proteins against degradation by neutrophil serine proteases., Cell Microbiol, Vol: 18, Pages: 536-545

Neutrophils store large quantities of neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs) that contribute, via multiple mechanisms, to antibacterial immune defences. Even though neutrophils are indispensable in fighting Staphylococcus aureus infections, the importance of NSPs in anti-staphylococcal defence is yet unknown. However, the fact that S. aureus produces three highly specific inhibitors for NSPs [the extracellular adherence proteins (EAPs) Eap, EapH1 and EapH2], suggests that these proteases are important for host defences against this bacterium. In this study we demonstrate that NSPs can inactivate secreted virulence factors of S. aureus and that EAP proteins function to prevent this degradation. Specifically, we find that a large group of S. aureus immune-evasion proteins is vulnerable to proteolytic inactivation by NSPs. In most cases, NSP cleavage leads to functional inactivation of virulence proteins. Interestingly, proteins with similar immune-escape functions appeared to have differential cleavage sensitivity towards NSPs. Using targeted mutagenesis and complementation analyses in S. aureus, we demonstrate that all EAP proteins can protect other virulence factors from NSP degradation in complex bacterial supernatants. These findings show that NSPs inactivate S. aureus virulence factors. Moreover, the protection by EAP proteins can explain why this antibacterial function of NSPs was masked in previous studies. Furthermore, our results indicate that therapeutic inactivation of EAP proteins can help to restore the natural host immune defences against S. aureus.


Stapels DAC, Geisbrecht BV, Rooijakkers SHM, 2015, Neutrophil serine proteases in antibacterial defense., Curr Opin Microbiol, Vol: 23, Pages: 42-48

Neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs) are critical for the effective functioning of neutrophils and greatly contribute to immune protection against bacterial infections. Thanks to their broad substrate specificity, these chymotrypsin-like proteases trigger multiple reactions that are detrimental to bacterial survival such as direct bacterial killing, generation of antimicrobial peptides, inactivation of bacterial virulence factors and formation of neutrophil extracellular traps. Recently, the importance of NSPs in antibacterial defenses has been further underscored by discoveries of unique bacterial evasion strategies to combat these proteases. Bacteria can indirectly disarm NSPs by protecting bacterial substrates against NSP cleavage, but also produce inhibitory molecules that potently block NSPs. Here we review recent insights in the functional contribution of NSPs in host protection against bacterial infections and the elegant strategies that bacteria use to counteract these responses.


Woehl JL, Stapels DAC, Garcia BL, Ramyar KX, Keightley A, Ruyken M, Syriga M, Sfyroera G, Weber AB, Zolkiewski M, Ricklin D, Lambris JD, Rooijakkers SHM, Geisbrecht BVet al., 2014, The extracellular adherence protein from Staphylococcus aureus inhibits the classical and lectin pathways of complement by blocking formation of the C3 proconvertase., J Immunol, Vol: 193, Pages: 6161-6171

The pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus actively evades many aspects of human innate immunity by expressing a series of small inhibitory proteins. A number of these proteins inhibit the complement system, which labels bacteria for phagocytosis and generates inflammatory chemoattractants. Although the majority of staphylococcal complement inhibitors act on the alternative pathway to block the amplification loop, only a few proteins act on the initial recognition cascades that constitute the classical pathway (CP) and lectin pathway (LP). We screened a collection of recombinant, secreted staphylococcal proteins to determine whether S. aureus produces other molecules that inhibit the CP and/or LP. Using this approach, we identified the extracellular adherence protein (Eap) as a potent, specific inhibitor of both the CP and LP. We found that Eap blocked CP/LP-dependent activation of C3, but not C4, and that Eap likewise inhibited deposition of C3b on the surface of S. aureus cells. In turn, this significantly diminished the extent of S. aureus opsonophagocytosis and killing by neutrophils. This combination of functional properties suggested that Eap acts specifically at the level of the CP/LP C3 convertase (C4b2a). Indeed, we demonstrated a direct, nanomolar-affinity interaction of Eap with C4b. Eap binding to C4b inhibited binding of both full-length C2 and its C2b fragment, which indicated that Eap disrupts formation of the CP/LP C3 proconvertase (C4b2). As a whole, our results demonstrate that S. aureus inhibits two initiation routes of complement by expression of the Eap protein, and thereby define a novel mechanism of immune evasion.


Boross P, van Montfoort N, Stapels DAC, van der Poel CE, Bertens C, Meeldijk J, Jansen JHM, Verbeek JS, Ossendorp F, Wubbolts R, Leusen JHWet al., 2014, FcRγ-chain ITAM signaling is critically required for cross-presentation of soluble antibody-antigen complexes by dendritic cells., J Immunol, Vol: 193, Pages: 5506-5514

The uptake of Ag-Ab immune complexes (IC) after the ligation of activating FcγR on dendritic cells (DC) leads to 100 times more efficient Ag presentation than the uptake of free Ags. FcγRs were reported to facilitate IC uptake and simultaneously induce cellular activation that drives DC maturation and mediates efficient T cell activation. Activating FcγRs elicit intracellular signaling via the ITAM domain of the associated FcRγ-chain. Studies with FcRγ-chain knockout (FcRγ(-/-)) mice reported FcRγ-chain ITAM signaling to be responsible for enhancing both IC uptake and DC maturation. However, FcRγ-chain is also required for surface expression of activating FcγRs, hampering the dissection of ITAM-dependent and independent FcγR functions in FcRγ(-/-) DCs. In this work, we studied the role of FcRγ-chain ITAM signaling using DCs from NOTAM mice that express normal surface levels of activating FcγR, but lack functional ITAM signaling. IC uptake by bone marrow-derived NOTAM DCs was reduced compared with wild-type DCs, but was not completely absent as in FcRγ(-/-) DCs. In NOTAM DCs, despite the uptake of ICs, both MHC class I and MHC class II Ag presentation was completely abrogated similar to FcRγ(-/-) DCs. Secretion of cytokines, upregulation of costimulatory molecules, and Ag degradation were abrogated in NOTAM DCs in response to FcγR ligation. Cross-presentation using splenic NOTAM DCs and prolonged incubation with OVA-IC was also abrogated. Interestingly, in this setup, proliferation of CD4(+) OT-II cells was induced by NOTAM DCs. We conclude that FcRγ-chain ITAM signaling facilitates IC uptake and is essentially required for cross-presentation, but not for MHC class II Ag presentation.


Stapels DAC, Ramyar KX, Bischoff M, von Köckritz-Blickwede M, Milder FJ, Ruyken M, Eisenbeis J, McWhorter WJ, Herrmann M, van Kessel KPM, Geisbrecht BV, Rooijakkers SHMet al., 2014, Staphylococcus aureus secretes a unique class of neutrophil serine protease inhibitors., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, Vol: 111, Pages: 13187-13192

Neutrophils are indispensable for clearing infections with the prominent human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Here, we report that S. aureus secretes a family of proteins that potently inhibits the activity of neutrophil serine proteases (NSPs): neutrophil elastase (NE), proteinase 3, and cathepsin G. The NSPs, but not related serine proteases, are specifically blocked by the extracellular adherence protein (Eap) and the functionally orphan Eap homologs EapH1 and EapH2, with inhibitory-constant values in the low-nanomolar range. Eap proteins are together essential for NSP inhibition by S. aureus in vitro and promote staphylococcal infection in vivo. The crystal structure of the EapH1/NE complex showed that Eap molecules constitute a unique class of noncovalent protease inhibitors that occlude the catalytic cleft of NSPs. These findings increase our insights into the complex pathogenesis of S. aureus infections and create opportunities to design novel treatment strategies for inflammatory conditions related to excessive NSP activity.


Neumann A, Völlger L, Berends ETM, Molhoek EM, Stapels DAC, Midon M, Friães A, Pingoud A, Rooijakkers SHM, Gallo RL, Mörgelin M, Nizet V, Naim HY, von Köckritz-Blickwede Met al., 2014, Novel role of the antimicrobial peptide LL-37 in the protection of neutrophil extracellular traps against degradation by bacterial nucleases., J Innate Immun, Vol: 6, Pages: 860-868

Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) have been described as a fundamental innate immune defence mechanism. They consist of a nuclear DNA backbone associated with different antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) which are able to engulf and kill pathogens. The AMP LL-37, a member of the cathelicidin family, is highly present in NETs. However, the function of LL-37 within NETs is still unknown because it loses its antimicrobial activity when bound to DNA in the NETs. Using immunofluorescence microscopy, we demonstrate that NETs treated with LL-37 are distinctly more resistant to S. aureus nuclease degradation than nontreated NETs. Biochemical assays utilising a random LL-37-fragment library indicated that the blocking effect of LL-37 on nuclease activity is based on the cationic character of the AMP, which facilitates the binding to neutrophil DNA, thus protecting it from degradation by the nuclease. In good correlation to these data, the cationic AMPs human beta defensin-3 and human neutrophil peptide-1 showed similar protection of neutrophil-derived DNA against nuclease degradation. In conclusion, this study demonstrates a novel role of AMPs in host immune defence: beside its direct antimicrobial activity against various pathogens, cationic AMPs can stabilise neutrophil-derived DNA or NETs against bacterial nuclease degradation.


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