Virulence of serotype M3 Group A Streptococcus strains in wax worms (Galleria mellonella larvae).
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes human infections that range in severity from pharyngitis ("strep-throat") to necrotizing fasciitis ("flesh-eating disease"). To facilitate investigation of the molecular basis of host-pathogen interactions, infection models capable of rapidly screening for differences in GAS strain virulence are needed. To this end, we developed a Galleria mellonella larvae (wax worm) model of invasive GAS infection and used it to compare the virulence of serotype M3 GAS strains. We found that GAS causes severe tissue damage and kills wax worms in a dose-dependent manner. The virulence of genetically distinct GAS strains was compared by Kaplan-Meier survival analysis and determining 50% lethal doses (LD 50). Host-pathogen interactions were further characterized using quantitative culture, histopathology and TaqMan assays. GAS strains known to be highly pathogenic in mice and monkeys caused significantly lower survival and had significantly lower LD 50s in wax worms than GAS strains associated with attenuated virulence or asymptomatic carriage. Furthermore, isogenic inactivation of proven virulence factors resulted in a significantly increased LD 50 and decreased lesion size compared to the wild-type strain, a finding that also strongly correlates with animal studies. Importantly, survival analysis and LD 50 determination in wax worms supported our hypothesis that a newly emerged GAS subclone that is epidemiologically associated with more human necrotizing fasciitis cases than its progenitor lineage has significantly increased virulence. We conclude that GAS virulence in wax worms strongly correlates with the data obtained in vertebrate models, and thus, the Galleria mellonella larva is a useful host organism to study GAS pathogenesis.