Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Zehava Eichenbaum


Heme is the major iron source for the deadly human pathogen, Group A Streptococcus (GAS). During infection, GAS lyses host cells releasing hemoglobin and other hemoproteins. This dissertation aims to elucidate the general mechanism by which GAS obtains and utilizes heme as an iron source from the host hemoproteins. GAS encodes a heme relay system consisting of Shr, Shp and the SiaABC transporter. We specifically determine the role of Shr in the heme uptake process, by conducting a detailed functional characterization of its constituent domains. We also undertake to solve the long-standing mystery surrounding the catabolism of heme in streptococci. The studies presented herein established Shr as a prototype of a new family of NEAT-containing hemoproteins receptors. They demonstrate its importance in heme acquisition by GAS and provide a molecular model for heme scavenging and transfer by the protein. We show that Shr modulates heme uptake depending on heme availability by a mechanism where NEAT1 facilitates fast heme scavenging and delivery to Shp, whereas NEAT2 serves as a temporary storage for heme on the bacterial surface. Finally, we identified and characterized for the first time, a heme oxygenase (HO) in the Streptococcus genus which was named HupZ. Sequence comparison between HupZ and several HOs from different structural families indicates that this enzyme is unrelated to any of the previously characterized HOs. However, orthologs of the protein are found in other important pathogens. The structure and the catalytic mechanism of HupZ suggest that it is the representative of a new family of flavoenzymes capable of degrading heme using their reduced flavin cofactor as a source of electrons. Overall, this work contributes significant knowledge to the topic of heme utilization by pathogens and importantly, provides new direct evidence that associates flavins with heme metabolism in bacteria. Thus it sets a new direction in the field and lays the ground for future fundamental and applied discoveries.