What is the pathogenesis of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) in group A streptococcal (GAS) infections?

Updated: Sep 07, 2018
  • Author: Zartash Zafar Khan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Pranatharthi Haran Chandrasekar, MBBS, MD  more...
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Answer

Despite the depth of knowledge that has been accumulated about the molecular microbiology of Streptococcus pyogenes, the pathogenesis of ARF remains unknown. A direct effect of a streptococcal extracellular toxin, in particular streptolysin O, may be responsible for the pathogenesis of ARF, according to some hypotheses. Observations that streptolysin O is cardiotoxic in animal models support this hypothesis, but linking this toxicity to the valvular damage observed in ARF has been difficult.

A more popular hypothesis is that an abnormal host immune response to some component of the group A Streptococcus is responsible. The M protein of GAS shares certain amino acid sequences with some human tissues, and this has been proposed as a source of cross-reactivity between the organism and human host that could lead to an immunopathologic immune response. Also, antigenic similarity between the group-specific polysaccharide of S pyogenes and glycoproteins found in human and bovine cardiac valves has been recognized, and patients with ARF have prolonged persistence of these antibodies compared with controls with uncomplicated pharyngitis. Other GAS antigens appear to cross-react with cardiac sarcolemma membranes. [16]


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