The human immune system is responsible for identification and destruction of invader cells, such as the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. In response, S. aureus brings to the fight a large number of virulence factors, including several that allow it to evade the host immune response. The staphylococcal surface protein SdrE was recently reported to bind to complement Factor H, an important regulator of complement activation. Factor H attaches to the surface of host cells to inhibit complement activation and amplification, preventing the destruction of the host cell. SdrE binding to Factor H allows S. aureus to mimic a host cell and reduces bacterial killing by granulocytes. In a new study published in Biochemical Journal, Zhang et al. describe crystal structures of SdrE and its complex with the C-terminal portion of Factor H. The structure of SdrE and its interaction with the Factor H peptide closely resemble a family of surface proteins that recognize extracellular matrix components such as fibrinogen. However, unbound SdrE forms a novel ‘Closed’ conformation with an occluded peptide-binding groove. These structures reveal a fascinating mechanism for immune evasion and provide a potential avenue for the development of novel antimicrobial agents to target SdrE.

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