Autotransporter proteins are major secreted virulence factors of Gram-negative bacteria. They are translocated across the inner membrane via the Sec machinery and the outer membrane via the Bam complex and a series of periplasmic chaperones, respectively. The passenger domain may then be proteolytically cleaved and released into the external milieu. The meningococcal autotransporters Adhesion and penetration protein (App) and Meningococcal serine protease A (MspA) are secreted S6-peptidase family autotransporters. Our previous work has shown that FITC-labelled recombinant App or MspA can be taken up by host cells and translocated into the nucleus. App and MspA can also bind to, and cleave recombinant host histones. We furthered investigate the ability of App and MspA (and their inactive derivatives) to cleave recombinant and host-derived histones. Our data demonstrate proteolytic activity of App and MspA on recombinant H3 and Hep-2 cell-derived H3 (which may undergo post-translational modifications that are not applied to the recombinant protein); no cleavage was observed when the histone proteins were treated with proteolytically inactive mutants of the autotransporter proteins. We have also further investigated the nuclear localisation of App and MspA by deleting areas of interest within the meningococcal autotransporters and assessing the impact on nuclear localisation in order to identify the autotransporter motifs required to direct App and MspA to the nuclear compartment. In summary, our results confirm that App and MspA can reach the nuclear compartment of the host cell and clip host-derived histone H3.

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