Breaching the Bacterial Envelope: The Pivotal Role of Perforin-2 (MPEG1) Within Phagocytes

Leidy C. Merselis, Zachary P. Rivas, George P. Munson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The membrane attack complex (MAC) of the complement system and Perforin-1 are well characterized innate immune effectors. MAC is composed of C9 and other complement proteins that target the envelope of gram-negative bacteria. Perforin-1 is deployed when killer lymphocytes degranulate to destroy virally infected or cancerous cells. These molecules polymerize with MAC-perforin/cholesterol-dependent cytolysin (MACPF/CDC) domains of each monomer deploying amphipathic β-strands to form pores through target lipid bilayers. In this review we discuss one of the most recently discovered members of this family; Perforin-2, the product of the Mpeg1 gene. Since their initial description more than 100 years ago, innumerable studies have made macrophages and other phagocytes some of the best understood cells of the immune system. Yet remarkably it was only recently revealed that Perforin-2 underpins a pivotal function of phagocytes; the destruction of phagocytosed microbes. Several studies have established that phagocytosed bacteria persist and in some cases flourish within phagocytes that lack Perforin-2. When challenged with either gram-negative or gram-positive pathogens Mpeg1 knockout mice succumb to infectious doses that the majority of wild-type mice survive. As expected by their immunocompromised phenotype, bacterial pathogens replicate and disseminate to deeper tissues of Mpeg1 knockout mice. Thus, this evolutionarily ancient gene endows phagocytes with potent bactericidal capability across taxa spanning sponges to humans. The recently elucidated structures of mammalian Perforin-2 reveal it to be a homopolymer that depends upon low pH, such as within phagosomes, to transition to its membrane-spanning pore conformation. Clinical manifestations of Mpeg1 missense mutations further highlight the pivotal role of Perforin-2 within phagocytes. Controversies and gaps within the field of Perforin-2 research are also discussed as well as animal models that may be used to resolve the outstanding issues. Our review concludes with a discussion of bacterial counter measures against Perforin-2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number597951
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Feb 22 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • MACPF/CDC family proteins
  • innate immune effector
  • macrophage
  • perforin-2/MPEG1
  • phagocyte
  • phagosome
  • pore-forming protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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