The two-component regulatory system (TCS) CiaRH of Streptococcus pneumoniae is implicated in competence, ß-lactam resistance, maintenance of cell integrity, bacteriocin production, host colonization, and virulence. Depending on the growth conditions, CiaR can be highly active in the absence of its cognate kinase CiaH, although phosphorylation of CiaR is required for DNA binding and gene regulation. To test the possibility that acetyl phosphate (AcP) could be the alternative phosphodonor, genes involved in pyruvate metabolism were disrupted to alter cellular levels of acetyl phosphate. Inactivating the genes of pyruvate oxidase SpxB, phosphotransacetylase Pta, and acetate kinase AckA, resulted in very low AcP levels and in strongly reduced CiaR-mediated gene expression in CiaH-deficient strains. Therefore, alternative phosphorylation of CiaR appears to proceed via AcP. The AcP effect on CiaR is not detected in strains with CiaH. Attempts to obtain elevated AcP by preventing its degradation by acetate kinase AckA, were not successful in CiaH-deficient strains with a functional SpxB, the most important enzyme for AcP production in S. pneumoniae. The ciaH-spxB-ackA mutant producing intermediate amounts of AcP could be constructed and showed a promoter activation, which was much higher than expected. Since activation was dependent on AcP, it can apparently be used more efficiently for CiaR phosphorylation in the absence of AckA. Therefore, high AcP levels in the absence of CiaH and AckA may cause extreme overexpression of the CiaR regulon leading to synthetic lethality. AckA is also involved in a regulatory response, which is mediated by CiaH. Addition of acetate to the growth medium switch CiaH from kinase to phosphatase. This switch is lost in the absence of AckA indicating metabolism of acetate is required, which starts with the production of AcP by AckA. Therefore, AckA plays a special regulatory role in the control of the CiaRH TCS.
Streptococcus pneumoniae; two-component regulatory system CiaRH; acetyl phosphate; alternative phosphorylation; pyruvate oxidase; acetate kinase
The ciaRH operon in Streptococcus mutans contains 3 contiguous genes, ciaXRH. Unlike the CiaRH system in other streptococci, only the ciaH-null mutant displays defective phenotypes, while the ciaR-null mutant behaves like the wild type. The objective of this study was to determine the mechanism of this unusual property. We demonstrate that the ciaH mutation caused a >20-fold increase in ciaR transcript synthesis. A ciaRH double deletion reversed the ciaH phenotype, suggesting that overexpressed ciaR might be responsible for the observed ciaH phenotypes. When ciaR was forced to be overexpressed by a transcriptional fusion to the ldh promoter in the wild-type background, the same ciaH phenotypes were restored, confirming the involvement of overexpressed ciaR in the ciaH phenotypes. The ciaH mutation and ciaR overexpression also caused transcriptional alterations in 100 genes, with 15 genes upregulated >5-fold. Bioinformatics analysis identified a putative CiaR regulon consisting of 8 genes/operons, including the ciaXRH operon itself, all of which were upregulated. In vitro footprinting on 4 of the 8 promoters revealed a protected region of 26 to 28 bp encompassing two direct repeats, NTTAAG-n5-WTTAAG, 10 bp upstream of the −10 region, indicating direct binding of the CiaR protein to these promoters. Taken together, we conclude that overexpressed CiaR, as a result of either ciaH deletion or forced expression from a constitutive promoter, is a mediator in the CiaH-regulated phenotypes.
In a previous study, a quorum-sensing signaling system essential for genetic competence in Streptococcus mutans was identified, characterized, and found to function optimally in biofilms (Li et al., J. Bacteriol. 183:897-908, 2001). Here, we demonstrate that this system also plays a role in the ability of S. mutans to initiate biofilm formation. To test this hypothesis, S. mutans wild-type strain NG8 and its knockout mutants defective in comC, comD, comE, and comX, as well as a comCDE deletion mutant, were assayed for their ability to initiate biofilm formation. The spatial distribution and architecture of the biofilms were examined by scanning electron microscopy and confocal scanning laser microscopy. The results showed that inactivation of any of the individual genes under study resulted in the formation of an abnormal biofilm. The comC mutant, unable to produce or secrete a competence-stimulating peptide (CSP), formed biofilms with altered architecture, whereas the comD and comE mutants, which were defective in sensing and responding to the CSP, formed biofilms with reduced biomass. Exogenous addition of the CSP and complementation with a plasmid containing the wild-type comC gene into the cultures restored the wild-type biofilm architecture of comC mutants but showed no effect on the comD, comE, or comX mutant biofilms. The fact that biofilms formed by comC mutants differed from the comD, comE, and comX mutant biofilms suggested that multiple signal transduction pathways were affected by CSP. Addition of synthetic CSP into the culture medium or introduction of the wild-type comC gene on a shuttle vector into the comCDE deletion mutant partially restored the wild-type biofilm architecture and further supported this idea. We conclude that the quorum-sensing signaling system essential for genetic competence in S. mutans is important for the formation of biofilms by this gram-positive organism.
Activation of the CiaRH two-component signaling system prevents the development of competence for genetic transformation in Streptococcus pneumoniae through a previously unknown mechanism. Earlier studies have shown that CiaRH controls the expression of htrA, which we show encodes a surface-expressed serine protease. We found that mutagenesis of the putative catalytic serine of HtrA, while not impacting the competence of a ciaRH+ strain, restored a normal competence profile to a strain having a mutation that constitutively activates the CiaH histidine kinase. This result implies that activity of HtrA is necessary for the CiaRH system to inhibit competence. Consistent with this finding, recombinant HtrA (rHtrA) decreased the competence of pneumococcal cultures. The rHtrA-mediated decline in transformation efficiency could not be corrected with excess competence-stimulating peptide (CSP), suggesting that HtrA does not act through degradation of this signaling molecule. The inhibitory effects of rHtrA and activated CiaH, however, were largely overcome in a strain having constitutive activation of the competence pathway through a mutation in the cytoplasmic domain of the ComD histidine kinase. Although these results suggested that HtrA might act through degradation of the extracellular portion of the ComD receptor, Western immunoblots for ComD did not reveal changes in protein levels attributable to HtrA. We therefore postulate that HtrA may act on an unknown protein target that potentiates the activation of the ComDE system by CSP. These findings suggest a novel regulatory role for pneumococcal HtrA in modulating the activity of a two-component signaling system that controls the development of genetic competence.
Streptococcus mutans is a primary pathogen for dental caries in humans. CiaR and CiaH of S. mutans comprise a two-component signal transduction system (TCS) involved in regulating various virulent factors. However, the signal that triggers the CiaRH response remains unknown. In this study, we show that calcium is a signal for regulation of the ciaRH operon, and that a double-glycine-containing small peptide encoded within the ciaRH operon (renamed ciaX) mediates this regulation. CiaX contains a serine-aspartate (SD) domain that is shared by calcium-binding proteins. A markerless in-frame deletion of ciaX reduced ciaRH operon expression and diminished the calcium repression of operon transcription. Point mutations of the SD-domain resulted in the same phenotype as the in-frame deletion, indicating that the SD-domain is required for CiaX function. Further characterization of ciaX demonstrated that it is involved in calcium mediated biofilm formation. Furthermore, inactivation of ciaR or ciaH led to the same phenotype as the in-frame deletion of ciaX, suggesting that all three genes are involved in the same regulatory pathway. Sequence analysis and real-time RT-PCR identified a putative CiaR binding site upstream of ciaX. We conclude that the ciaXRH operon is a three-component, self-regulatory system modulating cellular functions in response to calcium.
The ciaR-ciaH system is one of 13 two-component signal-transducing systems of the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. Mutations in the histidine protein kinase CiaH confer increased resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics and interfere with the development of genetic competence. In order to identify the genes controlled by the cia system, the cia regulon, DNA fragments targeted by the response regulator CiaR were isolated from restricted chromosomal DNA using the solid-phase DNA binding assay and analyzed by hybridization to an oligonucleotide microarray representing the S. pneumoniae genome. A set of 18 chromosomal regions containing 26 CiaR target sites were detected and proposed to represent the minimal cia regulon. The putative CiaR target loci included genes important for the synthesis and modification of cell wall polymers, peptide pheromone and bacteriocin production, and the htrA-spo0J region. In addition, the transcription profile of cia loss-of-function mutants and those with an apparent activated cia system representing the off and on states of the regulatory system were analyzed. The transcript analysis confirmed the cia-dependent expression of seven putative target loci and revealed three additional cia-regulated loci. Five putative target regions were silent under all conditions, and for the remaining three regions, no cia-dependent expression could be detected. Furthermore, the competence regulon, including the comCDE operon required for induction of competence, was completely repressed by the cia system.
The com operon of naturally transformable streptococcal species contains three genes, comC, comD, and comE, involved in the regulation of competence. The comC gene encodes a competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) thought to induce competence in the bacterial population at a critical extracellular concentration. The comD and comE genes are believed to encode the transmembrane histidine kinase and response regulator proteins, respectively, of a two-component regulator, with the comD-encoded protein being a receptor for CSP. Here we report on the genetic variability of comC and comD within Streptococcus pneumoniae isolates. Comparative analysis of sequence variations of comC and comD shows that, despite evidence for horizontal gene transfer at this locus and the lack of transformability of many S. pneumoniae strains in the laboratory, there is a clear correlation between the presence of a particular comC allele and the cognate comD allele. These findings effectively rule out the possibility that the presence of noncognate comC and comD alleles may be responsible for the inability to induce competence in many isolates and indicate the importance of a functional com pathway in these isolates. In addition, we describe a number of novel CSPs from disease-associated strains of S. mitis and S. oralis. The CSPs from these isolates are much more closely related to those from S. pneumoniae than to most CSPs previously reported from S. mitis and S. oralis, suggesting that these particular organisms may be a potential source of DNA in recombination events generating the mosaic structures commonly reported in genes of S. pneumoniae that are under strong selective pressure.
The VicRK two-component signaling system modulates biofilm formation, genetic competence, and stress tolerance in Streptococcus mutans. We show here that the VicRK modulates bacteriocin production and cell viability, in part by direct modulation of competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) production in S. mutans. Global transcriptome and real-time transcriptional analysis of the VicK-deficient mutant (SmuvicK) revealed significant modulation of several bacteriocin-related loci, including nlmAB, nlmC, and nlmD (P < 0.001), suggesting a role for the VicRK in producing mutacins IV, V, and VI. Bacteriocin overlay assays revealed an altered ability of the vic mutants to kill related species. Since a well-conserved VicR binding site (TGTWAH-N5-TGTWAH) was identified within the comC coding region, we confirmed VicR binding to this sequence using DNA footprinting. Overexpression of the vic operon caused growth-phase-dependent repression of comC, comDE, and comX. In the vic mutants, transcription of nlmC/cipB encoding mutacin V, previously linked to CSP-dependent cell lysis, as well as expression of its putative immunity factor encoded by immB, were significantly affected relative to the wild type (P < 0.05). In contrast to previous reports that proposed a hyper-resistant phenotype for the VicK mutant in cell viability, the release of extracellular genomic DNA was significantly enhanced in SmuvicK (P < 0.05), likely as a result of increased autolysis compared with the parent. The drastic influence of VicRK on cell viability was also demonstrated using vic mutant biofilms. Taken together, we have identified a novel regulatory link between the VicRK and ComDE systems to modulate bacteriocin production and cell viability of S. mutans.
The oral commensal Streptococcus gordonii must adapt to constantly fluctuating and often hostile environmental conditions to persist in the oral cavity. The arginine deiminase system (ADS) of S. gordonii enables cells to produce, ornithine, ammonia, CO2, and ATP from arginine hydrolysis, augmenting the acid tolerance of the organism. The ADS genes are substrate inducible and sensitive to catabolite repression, mediated through ArcR and CcpA, respectively, but the system also requires low pH and anaerobic conditions for optimal activation. Here, we demonstrate that the CiaRH and ComDE two-component systems (TCS) are required for low-pH-dependent expression of ADS genes in S. gordonii. Further, the VicRK TCS is required for optimal ADS gene expression under anaerobic conditions and enhances the sensitivity of the operon to repression by oxygen. The known anaerobic activator of the ADS, Fnr-like protein (Flp), appeared to act independently of the Vic TCS. Mutants of S. gordonii lacking components of the CiaRH, ComDE, or VicRK grew more slowly in acidified media and were more sensitive to killing at lethal pH values and to agents that induce oxidative stress. This study provides the first evidence that TCS can regulate the ADS of bacteria in response to specific environmental signals and reveals some notable differences in the contribution of CiaRH, ComDE, and VicRK to viability and stress tolerance between the oral commensal S. gordonii and the oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans.
Streptococcus mutans is a bacterium that has evolved to be dependent upon a biofilm “lifestyle” for survival and persistence in its natural ecosystem, dental plaque. We initiated this study to identify the genes involved in the development of genetic competence in S. mutans and to assay the natural genetic transformability of biofilm-grown cells. Using genomic analyses, we identified a quorum-sensing peptide pheromone signaling system similar to those previously found in other streptococci. The genetic locus of this system comprises three genes, comC, comD, and comE, that encode a precursor to the peptide competence factor, a histidine kinase, and a response regulator, respectively. We deduced the sequence of comC and its active pheromone product and chemically synthesized the corresponding 21-amino-acid competence-stimulating peptide (CSP). Addition of CSP to noncompetent cells facilitated increased transformation frequencies, with typically 1% of the total cell population transformed. To further confirm the roles of these genes in genetic competence, we inactivated them by insertion-duplication mutagenesis or allelic replacement followed by assays of transformation efficiency. We also demonstrated that biofilm-grown S. mutans cells were transformed at a rate 10- to 600-fold higher than planktonic S. mutans cells. Donor DNA included a suicide plasmid, S. mutans chromosomal DNA harboring a heterologous erythromycin resistance gene, and a replicative plasmid. The cells were optimally transformed during the formation of 8- to 16-h-old biofilms primarily consisting of microcolonies on solid surfaces. We also found that dead cells in the biofilms could act as donors of a chromosomally encoded antibiotic resistance determinant. This work demonstrated that a peptide pheromone system controls genetic competence in S. mutans and that the system functions optimally when the cells are living in actively growing biofilms.
The oral biofilm organism Streptococcus mutans must face numerous environmental stresses to survive in its natural habitat. Under specific stresses, S. mutans expresses the competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) pheromone known to induce autolysis and facilitate the uptake and incorporation of exogenous DNA, a process called DNA transformation. We have previously demonstrated that the CSP-induced CipB bacteriocin (mutacin V) is a major factor involved in both cellular processes. Our objective in this work was to characterize the role of CipB bacteriocin during DNA transformation. Although other bacteriocin mutants were impaired in their ability to acquire DNA under CSP-induced conditions, the ΔcipB mutant was the only mutant showing a sharp decrease in transformation efficiency. The autolysis function of CipB bacteriocin does not participate in the DNA transformation process, as factors released via lysis of a subpopulation of cells did not contribute to the development of genetic competence in the surviving population. Moreover, CipB does not seem to participate in membrane depolarization to assist passage of DNA. Microarray-based expression profiling showed that under CSP-induced conditions, CipB regulated ∼130 genes, among which are the comDE locus and comR and comX genes, encoding critical factors that influence competency development in S. mutans. We also discovered that the CipI protein conferring immunity to CipB-induced autolysis also prevented the transcriptional regulatory activity of CipB. Our data suggest that besides its role in cell lysis, the S. mutans CipB bacteriocin also functions as a peptide regulator for the transcriptional control of the competence regulon.
In Streptococcus pneumoniae, competence and bacteriocin genes are controlled by two two-component systems, ComED and BlpRH, respectively. In Streptococcus mutans, both functions are controlled by the ComED system. Recent studies in S. mutans revealed a potential ComE binding site characterized by two 11 bp direct repeats shared by each of the bacteriocin genes responsive to the competence-stimulating peptide (CSP). Interestingly, this sequence was not found in the upstream region of the CSP structural gene comC. Since comC is suggested to be part of a CSP-responsive and ComE-dependent autoregulatory loop, it was of interest to determine how it was possible that the ComED system could simultaneously regulate bacteriocin expression and natural competence. Using the intergenic region IGS1499, shared by the CSP-responsive bacteriocin nlmC and comC, it was demonstrated that both genes are likely to be regulated by a bifunctional ComE. In a comE null mutant, comC gene expression was increased similarly to a fully induced wild-type. In contrast, nlmC gene expression was nearly abolished. Deletion of ComD exerted a similar effect on both genes to that observed with the comE null mutation. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSAs) with purified ComE revealed specific shift patterns dependent on the presence of one or both direct repeats in the nlmC–comC promoter region. The two direct repeats were also required for the promoter activity of both nlmC and comC. These results suggest that gene regulation of comC in S. mutans is fundamentally different from that reported for S. pneumoniae, which implicates a unique regulatory mechanism that allows the coordination of bacteriocin production with competence development.
In Streptococcus mutans, competence for genetic transformation and biofilm formation are dependent on the two-component signal transduction system ComDE together with the inducer peptide pheromone competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) (encoded by comC). Here, it is shown that the same system is also required for expression of the nlmAB genes, which encode a two-peptide nonlantibiotic bacteriocin. Expression from a transcriptional nlmAB′-lacZ fusion was highest at high cell density and was increased up to 60-fold following addition of CSP, but it was abolished when the comDE genes were interrupted. Two more genes, encoding another putative bacteriocin and a putative bacteriocin immunity protein, were also regulated by this system. The regions upstream of these genes and of two further putative bacteriocin-encoding genes and a gene encoding a putative bacteriocin immunity protein contained a conserved 9-bp repeat element just upstream of the transcription start, which suggests that expression of these genes is also dependent on the ComCDE regulatory system. Mutations in the repeat element of the nlmAB promoter region led to a decrease in CSP-dependent expression of nlmAB′-lacZ. In agreement with these results, a comDE mutant and mutants unable to synthesize or export CSP did not produce bacteriocins. It is speculated that, at high cell density, bacteriocin production is induced to liberate DNA from competing streptococci.
In Streptococcus pneumoniae the competence-stimulating peptide (CSP), encoded by the comC gene, controls competence development and influences biofilm growth. We explored the influence of pherotype, defined by the two major comC allelic variants (comC1 and comC2), on biofilm development and recombination efficiency. Among isolates recovered from human infections those presenting comC1 show a higher capacity to form in vitro biofilms. The influence of pherotype on biofilm growth was confirmed by experiments with isogenic strains differing in their comC alleles. Biofilm architecture evaluated by confocal laser scanning microscopy showed that strains carrying comC1 form biofilms that are denser and thicker than those carrying the comC2 allele. Isogenic strains carrying the comC1 allele yielded more transformants than those carrying the comC2 allele in both planktonic and biofilm growth. Transformation assays with comC knockout strains show that ComD1 needs lower doses of the signaling peptide to reach the same biological outcomes. In contrast to mixed planktonic growth, within mixed biofilms inter-pherotype genetic exchange is less frequent than that occurring between bacteria of the same pherotype. Since biofilms are a major bacterial lifestyle, these observations may explain the genetic differentiation between populations with different pherotypes reported previously. Considering that biofilms have been associated with colonization our results suggest that strains carrying the comC1 allele may be more transmissible and more efficient at persisting in carriage. Both effects may help explain the higher prevalence of the comC1 allele in the pneumococcal population.
Competence stimulating peptide (CSP) is a 17-amino acid peptide pheromone secreted by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Upon binding of CSP to its membrane-associated receptor kinase ComD, a cascade of signaling events is initiated, leading to activation of the competence regulon by the response regulator ComE. Genes encoding proteins that are involved in DNA uptake and transformation, as well as virulence, are upregulated. Previous studies have shown that disruption of key components in the competence regulon inhibits DNA transformation and attenuates virulence. Thus, synthetic analogues that competitively inhibit CSPs may serve as attractive drugs to control pneumococcal infection and to reduce horizontal gene transfer during infection. We performed amino acid substitutions on conserved amino acid residues of CSP1 in an effort to disable DNA transformation and to attenuate the virulence of S. pneumoniae. One of the mutated peptides, CSP1-E1A, inhibited development of competence in DNA transformation by outcompeting CSP1 in time and concentration-dependent manners. CSP1-E1A reduced the expression of pneumococcal virulence factors choline binding protein D (CbpD) and autolysin A (LytA) in vitro, and significantly reduced mouse mortality after lung infection. Furthermore, CSP1-E1A attenuated the acquisition of an antibiotic resistance gene and a capsule gene in vivo. Finally, we demonstrated that the strategy of using a peptide inhibitor is applicable to other CSP subtype, including CSP2. CSP1-E1A and CSP2-E1A were able to cross inhibit the induction of competence and DNA transformation in pneumococcal strains with incompatible ComD subtypes. These results demonstrate the applicability of generating competitive analogues of CSPs as drugs to control horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes, and to attenuate virulence during infection by S. pneumoniae.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major cause of pneumonia, ear infection and meningitis. Antibiotic resistance among S. pneumoniae isolates is increasingly a major clinical problem. The acquisition of antibiotic resistance genes in S. pneumoniae is controlled by a peptide pheromone called competence-stimulating peptide (CSP). CSP binds to a receptor called ComD, which in turn activates its cognate transcription factor ComE to initiate DNA uptake and integration into the S. pneumoniae genome. CSP-ComD/E also regulates the expression of virulence factors required for infection. In this study, multiple synthetic analogues of CSP pheromone were examined for their ability to inhibit acquisition of exogenous DNA, and to control infection by S. pneumoniae in mice. Two of these analogues, CSP1-E1A and CSP2-E1A, competitively inhibit the ability of S. pneumoniae to acquire the streptomycin resistance rpsL gene and the capsule gene cap3A during mouse models of acute pneumonia and bacteremia. CSP1-E1A also reduces mouse mortality during lung infection by S. pneumoniae. This is the first demonstration of the use of CSP analogues to attenuate virulence and to inhibit acquisition of an antibiotic resistance gene in S. pneumoniae. Because the CSP-ComD/E system is conserved among many pathogenic bacteria, CSP analogues may be applicable to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance genes and to treat infections.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is major cause of invasive disease in newborn infants and the leading cause of neonatal meningitis. To gain access to the central nervous system (CNS), GBS must not only subvert host defenses in the bloodstream but also invade and survive within brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMEC), the principal cell layer composing the blood-brain barrier (BBB). While several GBS determinants that contribute to the invasion of BMEC have been identified, little is known about the GBS factors that are required for intracellular survival and ultimate disease progression. In this study we sought to identify these factors by screening a random GBS mutant library in an in vitro survival assay. One mutant was identified which contained a disruption in a two-component regulatory system homologous to CiaR/CiaH, which is present in other streptococcal pathogens. Deletion of the putative response regulator, ciaR, in GBS resulted in a significant decrease in intracellular survival within neutrophils, murine macrophages, and human BMEC, which was linked to increased susceptibility to killing by antimicrobial peptides, lysozyme, and reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, competition experiments with mice showed that wild-type GBS had a significant survival advantage over the GBS ΔciaR mutant in the bloodstream and brain. Microarray analysis comparing gene expression between wild-type and ΔciaR mutant GBS bacteria revealed several CiaR-regulated genes that may contribute to stress tolerance and the subversion of host defenses by GBS. Our results identify the GBS CiaR response regulator as a crucial factor in GBS intracellular survival and invasive disease pathogenesis.
The Streptococcus pneumoniae ComDE two-component signaling system controls the development of genetic competence in the bacterium and affects virulence in models of pneumonia and bacteremia. We have investigated the impact of the competence pathway during colonization of the nasopharynx, the principal ecological niche of the pneumococcus. Previous work showed that deletion of the pneumococcal CiaRH signaling system inhibited colonization and increased expression of genes required for competence. We anticipated that signaling by the competence pathway might similarly reduce carriage. Consistent with this expectation, a comE deletion that blocked transformation increased colonization fitness such that the mutant outcompeted the wild type in an infant rat model of asymptomatic carriage. Deletion of comD—immediately upstream of comE and likewise required for competence—similarly increased colonization fitness if the orientation of the antibiotic resistance cassette inserted into the comD locus was such that it reduced transcription of comE. However, an alternative comD deletion mutation that caused an increase in comE transcription impaired colonization instead. Activation of the competence system through a comE(D143Y) mutation did not affect colonization, but an inability to secrete the competence-stimulating peptide due to deletion of comAB produced a density-dependent reduction in colonization fitness. These results suggest a model in which signaling by the unactivated form of ComE reduces colonization fitness compared to that of bacteria in which it is either activated or absent entirely, with the most substantial fitness gain accompanying deletion of comE. This observation demonstrates that the pneumococcus incurs a substantial fitness cost in order to retain a functional competence regulatory system.
Competence-stimulating-peptide (CSP)-mediated competence development in Streptococcus mutans is a transient and biphasic process, since only a subpopulation induces the expression of ComX in the presence of CSP, and the activation of the DNA uptake machinery in this fraction shuts down ∼3 to 4 h postinduction. Here, we combine for the first time, to our knowledge, the bacterial flow-cytometric sorting of cells and subpopulation-specific transcriptome analysis of both the competent and noncompetent fraction of CSP-treated S. mutans cells. Sorting was guided by a ComX-green fluorescent protein (ComX-GFP) reporter, and the transcriptome analysis demonstrated the successful combination of both methods, because a strong enrichment of transcripts for comX and its downstream genes was achieved. Three two-component systems were expressed in the competent fraction, and among them was ComDE. Moreover, the recently identified regulator system ComR/S was expressed exclusively in the competent fraction. In contrast, the expression of bacteriocin-related genes was at the same level in all cells. GFP reporter strains for ComE and CipB (mutacin V) confirmed this expression pattern on the single-cell level. Fluorescence microscopy revealed that some ComX-expressing cells committed autolysis in an early stage of competence initiation. In viable ComX-expressing cells, the uptake of DNA could be shown on the single-cell level. This study demonstrates that all cells in the population respond to CSP through the activation of bacteriocin-related genes. Some of these cells start to activate ComX expression but then segregate into two subpopulations, one becoming competent and another one that lyses, resulting in intrapopulation diversity.
Induction of competence for natural genetic transformation in Streptococcus pneumoniae depends on pheromone-mediated cell-cell communication and a signaling pathway consisting of the competence-stimulating peptide (CSP), its membrane-embedded histidine kinase receptor ComD, and the cognate response regulator ComE. Extensive screening of pneumococcal isolates has revealed that two major CSP variants, CSP1 and CSP2, are found in members of this species. Even though the primary structures of CSP1 and CSP2 are about 50% identical, they are highly specific for their respective receptors, ComD1 and ComD2. In the present work, we have investigated the structural basis of this specificity by determining the three-dimensional structure of CSP1 from nuclear magnetic resonance data and comparing the agonist activity of a number of CSP1/CSP2 hybrid peptides toward the ComD1 and ComD2 receptors. Our results show that upon exposure to membrane-mimicking environments, the 17-amino-acid CSP1 pheromone adopts an amphiphilic α-helical configuration stretching from residue 6 to residue 12. Furthermore, the pattern of agonist activity displayed by the various hybrid peptides revealed that hydrophobic amino acids, some of which are situated on the nonpolar side of the α-helix, strongly contribute to CSP specificity. Together, these data indicate that the identified α-helix is an important structural feature of CSP1 which is essential for effective receptor recognition under natural conditions.
Streptococcus mutans develops competence for genetic transformation in response to regulatory circuits that sense at least two peptide pheromones. One peptide, known as CSP, is sensed by a two-component signal transduction system through a membrane receptor, ComD. The other, derived from the primary translation product ComS, is thought to be sensed by an intracellular receptor, ComR, after uptake by oligopeptide permease. To allow study of this process in a medium that does not itself contain peptides, development of competence was examined in the chemically defined medium (CDM) described by van de Rijn and Kessler (Infect. Immun. 27:444, 1980). We confirmed a previous report that in this medium comS mutants of strain UA159 respond to a synthetic peptide comprising the seven C-terminal residues of ComS (ComS11-17) by increasing expression of the alternative sigma factor SigX, which in turn allows expression of competence effector genes. This response provided the basis for a bioassay for the ComS pheromone in the 100 to 1,000 nM range. It was further observed that comS+ (but not comS mutant) cultures developed a high level of competence in the late log and transition phases of growth in this CDM without the introduction of any synthetic stimulatory peptide. This endogenous competence development was accompanied by extracellular release of one or more signals that complemented a comS mutation at levels equivalent to 1 μM synthetic ComS11-17.
Oxygen controls competence development in Streptococcus pneumoniae. Oxygen signaling involves the two-component signal transduction systems CiaRH and ComDE and the competence-stimulating peptide encoded by comC and processed by ComAB. We found that NADH oxidase (Nox) was required for optimal competence. Transcriptional analysis and genetic dissection showed that Nox was involved in post-transcriptional activation of the response regulator ComE and in the transcriptional control of ciaRH and comCDE. Thus, in S. pneumoniae, Nox, with O2 as its secondary substrate, is part of the O2-signaling pathway.
The development of competence by the dental caries pathogen Streptococcus mutans is mediated primarily through the alternative sigma factor ComX (SigX), which is under the control of multiple regulatory systems and activates the expression of genes involved in DNA uptake and recombination. Here we report that the induction of competence and competence gene expression by XIP (sigX-inducing peptide) and CSP (competence-stimulating peptide) is dependent on the growth phase and that environmental pH has a potent effect on the responses to XIP. A dramatic decline in comX and comS expression was observed in mid- and late-exponential-phase cells. XIP-mediated competence development and responses to XIP were optimal around a neutral pH, although mid-exponential-phase cells remained refractory to XIP treatment, and acidified late-exponential-phase cultures were resistant to killing by high concentrations of XIP. Changes in the expression of the genes for the oligopeptide permease (opp), which appears to be responsible for the internalization of XIP, could not entirely account for the behaviors observed. Interestingly, comS and comX expression was highly induced in response to endogenously overproduced XIP or ComS in mid-exponential-phase cells. In contrast to the effects of pH on XIP, competence induction and responses to CSP in complex medium were not affected by pH, although a decreased response to CSP in cells that had exited early-exponential phase was observed. Collectively, these results indicate that competence development may be highly sensitive to microenvironments within oral biofilms and that XIP and CSP signaling in biofilms could be spatially and temporally heterogeneous.
Streptococcus mutans normally colonizes dental biofilms and is regularly exposed to continual cycles of acidic pH during ingestion of fermentable dietary carbohydrates. The ability of S. mutans to survive at low pH is an important virulence factor in the pathogenesis of dental caries. Despite a few studies of the acid adaptation mechanism of this organism, little work has focused on the acid tolerance of S. mutans growing in high-cell-density biofilms. It is unknown whether biofilm growth mode or high cell density affects acid adaptation by S. mutans. This study was initiated to examine the acid tolerance response (ATR) of S. mutans biofilm cells and to determine the effect of cell density on the induction of acid adaptation. S. mutans BM71 cells were first grown in broth cultures to examine acid adaptation associated with growth phase, cell density, carbon starvation, and induction by culture filtrates. The cells were also grown in a chemostat-based biofilm fermentor for biofilm formation. Adaptation of biofilm cells to low pH was established in the chemostat by the acid generated from excess glucose metabolism, followed by a pH 3.5 acid shock for 3 h. Both biofilm and planktonic cells were removed to assay percentages of survival. The results showed that S. mutans BM71 exhibited a log-phase ATR induced by low pH and a stationary-phase acid resistance induced by carbon starvation. Cell density was found to modulate acid adaptation in S. mutans log-phase cells, since pre-adapted cells at a higher cell density or from a dense biofilm displayed significantly higher resistance to the killing pH than the cells at a lower cell density. The log-phase ATR could also be induced by a neutralized culture filtrate collected from a low-pH culture, suggesting that the culture filtrate contained an extracellular induction component(s) involved in acid adaptation in S. mutans. Heat or proteinase treatment abolished the induction by the culture filtrate. The results also showed that mutants defective in the comC, -D, or -E genes, which encode a quorum sensing system essential for cell density-dependent induction of genetic competence, had a diminished log-phase ATR. Addition of synthetic competence stimulating peptide (CSP) to the comC mutant restored the ATR. This study demonstrated that cell density and biofilm growth mode modulated acid adaptation in S. mutans, suggesting that optimal development of acid adaptation in this organism involves both low pH induction and cell-cell communication.
Many streptococcal species belonging to the mitis and anginosus phylogenetic groups are known to be naturally competent for genetic transformation. Induction of the competent state in these bacteria is regulated by a quorum-sensing mechanism consisting of a secreted peptide pheromone encoded by comC and a two-component regulatory system encoded by comDE. Here we report that a natural isolate of a mitis group streptococcus (Atu-4) is competent for genetic transformation even though it has lost the gene encoding the competence pheromone. In contrast to other strains, induction of competence in Atu-4 is not regulated by cell density, since highly diluted cultures of this strain are still competent. Interestingly, competence in the Atu-4 strain is lost if the gene encoding the response regulator ComE is disrupted, demonstrating that this component of the quorum-sensing apparatus is still needed for competence development. These results indicate that mutations in ComD or ComE have resulted in a gain-of-function phenotype that allows competence without a competence pheromone. A highly similar strain lacking comC was isolated independently from another individual, suggesting that strains with this phenotype are able to survive in nature in competition with wild-type strains.
The competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) and the sigX-inducing peptide (XIP) are known to induce Streptococcus mutans competence for genetic transformation. For both pheromones, direct identification of the native peptides has not been accomplished. The fact that extracellular XIP activity was recently observed in a chemically defined medium devoid of peptides, as mentioned in an accompanying paper (K. Desai, L. Mashburn-Warren, M. J. Federle, and D. A. Morrison, J. Bacteriol. 194:3774–3780, 2012), provided ideal conditions for native XIP identification. To search for the XIP identity, culture supernatants were filtered to select for peptides of less than 3 kDa, followed by C18 extraction. One peptide, not detected in the supernatant of a comS deletion mutant, was identified by tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) fragmentation as identical to the ComS C-terminal sequence GLDWWSL. ComS processing did not require Eep, a peptidase involved in processing or import of bacterial small hydrophobic peptides, since eep deletion had no inhibitory effect on XIP production or on synthetic XIP response. We investigated whether extracellular CSP was also produced. A reporter assay for CSP activity detection, as well as MS analysis of supernatants, revealed that CSP was not present at detectable levels. In addition, a mutant with deletion of the CSP-encoding gene comC produced endogenous XIP levels similar to those of a nondeletion mutant. The results indicate that XIP pheromone production is a natural phenomenon that may occur in the absence of natural CSP pheromone activity and that the heptapeptide GLDWWSL is an extracellular processed form of ComS, possibly the active XIP pheromone. This is the first report of direct identification of a ComR/ComS pheromone.