Pep M5, the pepsin-derived N-terminal half of the group A streptococcal type 5 M protein exhibits immunologic crossreaction with type 6 M protein, localizing some of the M6-crossreactive epitope(s) within this segment of the M5 protein. Based on the amino acid sequence of the Pep M5 protein, two structurally distinct domains have been recognized within its coiled-coil structure. We have now found that peptides derived from both the structurally distinct domains of the Pep M5 protein contain antigenic epitopes. Furthermore, only the peptides from the C-terminal domain of the Pep M5 protein crossreacted with rabbit anti-M6 sera, whereas those from the N-terminal domain did not. Consistent with this, sequence analyses of the arginyl peptides of the Pep M6 protein, the pepsin-derived N-terminal half of the M6 protein, revealed extensive homology of some of these peptides with regions within the C-terminal domain of the Pep M5 molecule. While an arginyl peptide of the Pep M6 protein exhibits 84% homology with region 150-186 of the Pep M5 protein, the C-terminal hexadecapeptide of the Pep M6 protein is virtually identical with the corresponding region of the Pep M5 protein. These results are suggestive of conformational similarities in the region around the pepsin-susceptible site within the M5 and M6 proteins. In addition, one or more epitopes of the M5 protein that are crossreactive with the M6 protein may be placed close to the pepsin-susceptible site of the M5 protein. Previous studies have suggested the N-terminal half of the M proteins to be the variable part of the molecule among the different M protein serotypes. The present results suggest that the N-terminal quarter of the M protein may represent the hypervariable domain of the M molecule.

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