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1.  Intergenic Variable-Number Tandem-Repeat Polymorphism Upstream of rocA Alters Toxin Production and Enhances Virulence in Streptococcus pyogenes 
Infection and Immunity  2016;84(7):2086-2093.
Variable-number tandem-repeat (VNTR) polymorphisms are ubiquitous in bacteria. However, only a small fraction of them has been functionally studied. Here, we report an intergenic VNTR polymorphism that confers an altered level of toxin production and increased virulence in Streptococcus pyogenes. The nature of the polymorphism is a one-unit deletion in a three-tandem-repeat locus upstream of the rocA gene encoding a sensor kinase. S. pyogenes strains with this type of polymorphism cause human infection and produce significantly larger amounts of the secreted cytotoxins S. pyogenes NADase (SPN) and streptolysin O (SLO). Using isogenic mutant strains, we demonstrate that deleting one or more units of the tandem repeats abolished RocA production, reduced CovR phosphorylation, derepressed multiple CovR-regulated virulence factors (such as SPN and SLO), and increased virulence in a mouse model of necrotizing fasciitis. The phenotypic effect of the VNTR polymorphism was nearly the same as that of inactivating the rocA gene. In summary, we identified and characterized an intergenic VNTR polymorphism in S. pyogenes that affects toxin production and virulence. These new findings enhance understanding of rocA biology and the function of VNTR polymorphisms in S. pyogenes.
PMCID: PMC4936349  PMID: 27141081
2.  Regulatory Rewiring Confers Serotype-Specific Hyper-Virulence in the Human Pathogen Group A Streptococcus 
Molecular microbiology  2015;98(3):473-489.
Phenotypic heterogeneity is commonly observed between isolates of a given pathogen. Epidemiological analyses have identified that some serotypes of the group A Streptococcus (GAS) are non-randomly associated with particular disease manifestations. Here, we present evidence that a contributing factor to the association of serotype M3 GAS isolates with severe invasive infections is the presence of a null mutant allele for the orphan kinase RocA. Through use of RNAseq analysis, we identified that the natural rocA mutation present within M3 isolates leads to the enhanced expression of more than a dozen immunomodulatory virulence factors, enhancing phenotypes such as hemolysis and NAD+ hydrolysis. Consequently, an M3 GAS isolate survived human phagocytic killing at a level 13-fold higher than a rocA complemented derivative, and was significantly more virulent in a murine bacteremia model of infection. Finally, we identified that RocA functions through the CovR/S two-component system as levels of phosphorylated CovR increase in the presence of functional RocA, and RocA has no regulatory activity following covR or covS mutation. Our data are consistent with RocA interfacing with the CovR/S two-component system, and that the absence of this activity in M3 GAS potentiates the severity of invasive infections caused by isolates of this serotype.
PMCID: PMC4675629  PMID: 26192205
Phenotypic variation; regulation; virulence factors; cross-talk; Streptococcus pyogenes
3.  A Multi-Serotype Approach Clarifies the Catabolite Control Protein A Regulon in the Major Human Pathogen Group A Streptococcus 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:32442.
Catabolite control protein A (CcpA) is a highly conserved, master regulator of carbon source utilization in gram-positive bacteria, but the CcpA regulon remains ill-defined. In this study we aimed to clarify the CcpA regulon by determining the impact of CcpA-inactivation on the virulence and transcriptome of three distinct serotypes of the major human pathogen Group A Streptococcus (GAS). CcpA-inactivation significantly decreased GAS virulence in a broad array of animal challenge models consistent with the idea that CcpA is critical to gram-positive bacterial pathogenesis. Via comparative transcriptomics, we established that the GAS CcpA core regulon is enriched for highly conserved CcpA binding motifs (i.e. cre sites). Conversely, strain-specific differences in the CcpA transcriptome seems to consist primarily of affected secondary networks. Refinement of cre site composition via analysis of the core regulon facilitated development of a modified cre consensus that shows promise for improved prediction of CcpA targets in other medically relevant gram-positive pathogens.
PMCID: PMC5007534  PMID: 27580596
4.  Complete Genome Sequence of Streptococcus mitis Strain SVGS_061 Isolated from a Neutropenic Patient with Viridans Group Streptococcal Shock Syndrome 
Genome Announcements  2016;4(2):e00259-16.
Streptococcus mitis frequently causes invasive infections in neutropenic cancer patients, with a subset of patients developing viridans group streptococcal (VGS) shock syndrome. We report here the first complete genome sequence of S. mitis strain SVGS_061, which caused VGS shock syndrome, to help elucidate the pathogenesis of severe VGS infection.
PMCID: PMC4824267  PMID: 27056234
5.  Emergence of Serotype IV Group B Streptococcus Adult Invasive Disease in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada, Is Driven by Clonal Sequence Type 459 Strains 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2015;53(9):2919-2926.
Serotype IV group B Streptococcus (GBS) is emerging in Canada and the United States with rates as high as 5% of the total burden of adult invasive GBS disease. To understand this emergence, we studied the population structure and assessed the antimicrobial susceptibility of serotype IV isolates causing adult invasive infection in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada, between 2010 and 2014. Whole-genome sequencing was used to determine multilocus sequence typing information and identify genes encoding antimicrobial resistance in 85 invasive serotype IV GBS strains. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing was performed by standard methods. Strain divergence was assessed using genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism analysis. Serotype IV strains were responsible for 16.9% of adult invasive GBS infections in Manitoba and Saskatchewan during the period. The majority of serotype IV isolates (89%) were clonally related, tetracycline-, erythromycin-, and clindamycin-resistant sequence type 459 (ST459) strains that possessed genes tetM and ermTR. Genome comparisons between ST459 and serotype V ST1 GBS identified several areas of recombination in an overall similar genomic background. Serotype IV ST459 GBS strains are expanding and causing a substantial percentage of adult invasive GBS disease. This emergence may be linked to the acquisition of resistance to tetracycline, macrolides, and lincosamides.
PMCID: PMC4540936  PMID: 26135871
6.  Application of Whole-Genome Sequencing to an Unusual Outbreak of Invasive Group A Streptococcal Disease 
Open Forum Infectious Diseases  2016;3(1):ofw042.
Whole-genome analysis was applied to investigate atypical point-source transmission of 2 invasive group A streptococcal (GAS) infections. Isolates were serotype M4, ST39, and genetically indistinguishable. Comparison with MGAS10750 revealed nonsynonymous polymorphisms in ropB and increased speB transcription. This study demonstrates the usefulness of whole-genome analyses for GAS outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC4800461  PMID: 27006966
group A Streptococcus; invasive disease; speB; Streptococcuspyogenes; whole-genome sequencing
7.  Invasive Gram-Positive Bacterial Infection in Cancer Patients 
Systematic studies have shown that gram-positive organisms are the leading cause of invasive bacterial disease in patients with cancer. A broad range of gram-positive bacteria cause serious infections in the cancer patient with the greatest burden of disease being due to staphylococci, streptococci, and enterococci. The evolution of cancer therapy and the changing epidemiology of major gram-positive pathogens mean that ongoing efforts are needed to understand and mitigate the impact of these bacteria in patients with malignancy. The development of novel antibacterials, optimization of treatment approaches, implementation of improved vaccines, and manipulation of the microbiome are all active areas of investigation in the goal of improving the survival of the cancer patient through amelioration of the disease burden of gram-positive bacteria.
PMCID: PMC4303051  PMID: 25352626
gram-positive bacteria; infection; neutropenia; antimicrobial resistance
8.  Implementation of a Pan-Genomic Approach to Investigate Holobiont-Infecting Microbe Interaction: A Case Report of a Leukemic Patient with Invasive Mucormycosis 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(11):e0139851.
Disease can be conceptualized as the result of interactions between infecting microbe and holobiont, the combination of a host and its microbial communities. It is likely that genomic variation in the host, infecting microbe, and commensal microbiota are key determinants of infectious disease clinical outcomes. However, until recently, simultaneous, multiomic investigation of infecting microbe and holobiont components has rarely been explored. Herein, we characterized the infecting microbe, host, micro- and mycobiomes leading up to infection onset in a leukemia patient that developed invasive mucormycosis. We discovered that the patient was infected with a strain of the recently described Mucor velutinosus species which we determined was hypervirulent in a Drosophila challenge model and has a predisposition for skin dissemination. After completing the infecting M. velutinosus genome and genomes from four other Mucor species, comparative pathogenomics was performed and assisted in identifying 66 M. velutinosus-specific putatively secreted proteins, including multiple novel secreted aspartyl proteinases which may contribute to the unique clinical presentation of skin dissemination. Whole exome sequencing of the patient revealed multiple non-synonymous polymorphisms in genes critical to control of fungal proliferation, such as TLR6 and PTX3. Moreover, the patient had a non-synonymous polymorphism in the NOD2 gene and a missense mutation in FUT2, which have been linked to microbial dysbiosis and microbiome diversity maintenance during physiologic stress, respectively. In concert with host genetic polymorphism data, the micro- and mycobiome analyses revealed that the infection developed amid a dysbiotic microbiome with low α-diversity, dominated by staphylococci. Additionally, longitudinal mycobiome data showed that M. velutinosus DNA was detectable in oral samples preceding disease onset. Our genome-level study of the host-infecting microbe-commensal triad extends the concept of personalized genomic medicine to the holobiont-infecting microbe interface thereby offering novel opportunities for using synergistic genetic methods to increase understanding of infectious diseases pathogenesis and clinical outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4640583  PMID: 26556047
9.  An N-Terminal Signal Peptide Of Vfr Protein Negatively Influences RopB-Dependent SpeB Expression and Attenuates Virulence in Streptococcus pyogenes 
Molecular microbiology  2011;82(6):1481-1495.
Streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin B (SpeB) is an extracellular cysteine protease that is a critical virulence factor made by the major human pathogen group A Streptococcus (GAS). speB expression is dependent on the regulator of proteinase B (RopB) and is upregulated with increasing cell density and during infection. Because computer modeling suggested significant structural similarity between RopB and peptide-sensing regulatory proteins made by other Gram-positive bacteria, we hypothesized that speB expression is influenced by RopB-peptide interactions. Inactivation of the gene (vfr) encoding the virulence factor related (Vfr) protein resulted in increased speB transcript level during the exponential growth phase, whereas provision of only the amino-terminal region of Vfr comprising the secretion signal sequence in trans restored a wild-type speB expression profile. Addition of the culture supernatant from a Vfr signal peptide-expressing GAS strain restored wild-type speB transcript level to a vfr-inactivated isogenic mutant strain. A distinct peptide in the Vfr secretion signal sequence specifically bound to recombinant RopB. Finally, overexpression of the Vfr secretion signal sequence significantly decreased speB transcript level and attenuated GAS virulence in two mouse models of invasive infection. Taken together, these data delineate a previously unknown small peptide-mediated regulatory system that controls GAS virulence factor production.
PMCID: PMC4571278  PMID: 22040048
Virulence; gene regulation; SpeB; RopB; signal peptide
10.  Contribution of AmyA, an extracellular α-glucan degrading enzyme, to group A streptococcal host-pathogen interaction 
Molecular microbiology  2009;74(1):159-174.
α-glucans such as starch and glycogen are abundant in the human oropharynx, the main site of group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection. However, the role in pathogenesis of GAS extracellular α-glucan binding and degrading enzymes is unknown. The serotype M1 GAS genome encodes two extracellular proteins putatively involved in α-glucan binding and degradation; pulA encodes a cell-wall anchored pullulanase and amyA encodes a freely secreted putative cyclomaltodextrin α-glucanotransferase. Genetic inactivation of amyA, but not pulA, abolished GAS α-glucan degradation. The ΔamyA strain had a slower rate of translocation across human pharyngeal epithelial cells. Consistent with this finding, the ΔamyA strain was less virulent following mouse mucosal challenge. Recombinant AmyA degraded α-glucans into β-cyclomaltodextrins that reduced pharyngeal cell transepithelial resistance, providing a physiologic explanation for the observed transepithelial migration phenotype. Higher amyA transcript levels were present in serotype M1 GAS strains causing invasive infection compared to strains causing pharyngitis. GAS proliferation in a defined α-glucan-containing medium was dependent on the presence of human salivary α-amylase. These data delineate the molecular mechanisms by which α-glucan degradation contributes to GAS host-pathogen interaction including how GAS employs human salivary α-amylase for its own metabolic benefit.
PMCID: PMC4557622  PMID: 19735442
Streptococcus; salivary amylase; pharyngitis; translocation
11.  The Identification and Functional Characterization of WxL Proteins from Enterococcus faecium Reveal Surface Proteins Involved in Extracellular Matrix Interactions 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;197(5):882-892.
The WxL domain recently has been identified as a novel cell wall binding domain found in numerous predicted proteins within multiple Gram-positive bacterial species. However, little is known about the function of proteins containing this novel domain. Here, we identify and characterize 6 Enterococcus faecium proteins containing the WxL domain which, by reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) and genomic analyses, are located in three similarly organized operons, deemed WxL loci A, B, and C. Western blotting, electron microscopy, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) determined that genes of WxL loci A and C encode antigenic, cell surface proteins exposed at higher levels in clinical isolates than in commensal isolates. Secondary structural analyses of locus A recombinant WxL domain-containing proteins found they are rich in β-sheet structure and disordered segments. Using Biacore analyses, we discovered that recombinant WxL proteins from locus A bind human extracellular matrix proteins, specifically type I collagen and fibronectin. Proteins encoded by locus A also were found to bind to each other, suggesting a novel cell surface complex. Furthermore, bile salt survival assays and animal models using a mutant from which all three WxL loci were deleted revealed the involvement of WxL operons in bile salt stress and endocarditis pathogenesis. In summary, these studies extend our understanding of proteins containing the WxL domain and their potential impact on colonization and virulence in E. faecium and possibly other Gram-positive bacterial species.
PMCID: PMC4325096  PMID: 25512313
12.  Characterization of the Effect of the Histidine Kinase CovS on Response Regulator Phosphorylation in Group A Streptococcus 
Infection and Immunity  2015;83(3):1068-1077.
Two-component gene regulatory systems (TCSs) are a major mechanism by which bacteria respond to environmental stimuli and thus are critical to infectivity. For example, the control of virulence regulator/sensor kinase (CovRS) TCS is central to the virulence of the major human pathogen group A Streptococcus (GAS). Here, we used a combination of quantitative in vivo phosphorylation assays, isoallelic strains that varied by only a single amino acid in CovS, and transcriptome analyses to characterize the impact of CovS on CovR phosphorylation and GAS global gene expression. We discovered that CovS primarily serves to phosphorylate CovR, thereby resulting in the repression of virulence factor-encoding genes. However, a GAS strain selectively deficient in CovS phosphatase activity had a distinct transcriptome relative to that of its parental strain, indicating that both CovS kinase and phosphatase activities influence the CovR phosphorylation status. Surprisingly, compared to a serotype M3 strain, serotype M1 GAS strains had high levels of phosphorylated CovR, low transcript levels of CovR-repressed genes, and strikingly different responses to environmental cues. Moreover, the inactivation of CovS in the serotype M1 background resulted in a greater decrease in phosphorylated CovR levels and a greater increase in the transcript levels of CovR-repressed genes than did CovS inactivation in a serotype M3 strain. These data clarify the influence of CovS on the CovR phosphorylation status and provide insight into why serotype M1 GAS strains have high rates of spontaneous mutations in covS during invasive GAS infection, thus providing a link between TCS molecular function and the epidemiology of deadly bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC4333468  PMID: 25561708
13.  Inhaled therapeutics for prevention and treatment of pneumonia 
Expert opinion on drug safety  2009;8(4):435-449.
The lungs are the most common site of serious infection owing to their large surface area exposed to the external environment and minimum barrier defense. However, this architecture makes the lungs readily available for topical therapy. Therapeutic aerosols include those directed towards improving mucociliary clearance of pathogens, stimulation of innate resistance to microbial infection, cytokine stimulation of immune function and delivery of antibiotics. In our opinion inhaled antimicrobials are underused, especially in patients with difficult-to-treat lung infections. The use of inhaled antimicrobial therapy has become an important part of the treatment of airway infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis and the prevention of invasive fungal infection in patients undergoing heart and lung transplantation. Cytokine inhaled therapy has also been explored in the treatment of neoplastic and infectious disease. The choice of pulmonary drug delivery systems remains critical as air-jet and ultrasonic nebulizer may deliver sub-optimum drug concentration if not used properly. In future development of this field, we recommend an emphasis on the study of the use of aerosolized hypertonic saline solution to reduce pathogen burden in the airways of subjects infected with microbes of low virulence, stimulation of innate resistance to prevent pneumonia in immunocompromised subjects using cytokines or synthetic pathogen-associated molecular pattern analogues and more opportunities for the use of inhaled antimicrobials. These therapeutics are still in their infancy but show great promise.
PMCID: PMC4527977  PMID: 19538104
amikacin; antifungal; antiviral; aspergillosis; cancer; colistin; cytokine; inhaled tobramycin; innate immunity; pneumonia; Pseudomonas; transplantation; vancomycin; ventilator-associated pneumonia; zygomycosis
14.  Molecular Characterization of an Invasive Phenotype of Group A Streptococcus Arising During Human Infection Using Whole Genome Sequencing of Multiple Isolates From the Same Patient 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2013;209(10):1520-1523.
Invasive group A streptococcal (GAS) strains often have genetic differences compared to GAS strains from nonsterile sites. Invasive, “hypervirulent” GAS strains can arise from a noninvasive progenitor following subcutaneous inoculation in mice, but such emergence has been rarely characterized in humans. We used whole genome analyses of multiple GAS isolates from the same patient to document the molecular basis for emergence of a GAS strain with an invasive phenotype during human infection. In contrast to previous theories, we found that elimination of production of the cysteine protease SpeB was not necessary for emergence of GAS with an invasive, “hypervirulent” phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3997578  PMID: 24307742
group A Streptococcus; bacterial pathogenesis; virulence; whole genome sequencing; gene expression
15.  Asymptomatic Carriage of Group A Streptococcus Is Associated with Elimination of Capsule Production 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(9):3958-3967.
Humans commonly carry pathogenic bacteria asymptomatically, but despite decades of study, the underlying molecular contributors remain poorly understood. Here, we show that a group A streptococcus carriage strain contains a frameshift mutation in the hasA gene resulting in loss of hyaluronic acid capsule biosynthesis. This mutation was repaired by allelic replacement, resulting in restoration of capsule production in the isogenic derivative strain. The “repaired” isogenic strain was significantly more virulent than the carriage strain in a mouse model of necrotizing fasciitis and had enhanced growth ex vivo in human blood. Importantly, the repaired isogenic strain colonized the mouse oropharynx with significantly greater bacterial burden and had significantly reduced ability to internalize into cultured epithelial cells than the acapsular carriage strain. We conducted full-genome sequencing of 81 strains cultured serially from 19 epidemiologically unrelated human subjects and discovered the common theme that mutations negatively affecting capsule biosynthesis arise in vivo in the has operon. The significantly decreased capsule production is a key factor contributing to the molecular détente between pathogen and host. Our discoveries suggest a general model for bacterial pathogens in which mutations that downregulate or ablate virulence factor production contribute to carriage.
PMCID: PMC4187823  PMID: 25024363
16.  GyrB Polymorphisms Accurately Assign Invasive Viridans Group Streptococcal Species 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2014;52(8):2905-2912.
Viridans group streptococci (VGS) are a heterogeneous group of medically important bacteria that cannot be accurately assigned to a particular species using conventional phenotypic methods. Although multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) is considered the gold standard for VGS species-level identification, MLSA is not yet feasible in the clinical setting. Conversely, molecular methods, such as sodA and 16S rRNA gene sequencing, are clinically practical but not sufficiently accurate for VGS species-level identification. Here, we present data regarding the use of an ∼400-nucleotide internal fragment of the gene encoding DNA gyrase subunit B (GyrB) for VGS species-level identification. MLSA, internal gyrB, sodA, full-length, and 5′ 16S gene sequences were used to characterize 102 unique VGS blood isolates collected from 2011 to 2012. When using the MLSA species assignment as a reference, full-length and 5′ partial 16S gene and sodA sequence analyses failed to correctly assign all strains to a species. Precise species determination was particularly problematic for Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus oralis isolates. However, the internal gyrB fragment allowed for accurate species designations for all 102 strains. We validated these findings using 54 VGS strains for which MLSA, 16S gene, sodA, and gyrB data are available at the NCBI, showing that gyrB is superior to 16S gene and sodA sequence analyses for VGS species identification. We also observed that specific polymorphisms in the 133-amino acid sequence of the internal GyrB fragment can be used to identify invasive VGS species. Thus, the GyrB amino acid sequence may offer a more practical and accurate method for classifying invasive VGS strains to the species level.
PMCID: PMC4136163  PMID: 24899021
17.  Natural Variation in the Promoter of the Gene Encoding the Mga Regulator Alters Host-Pathogen Interactions in Group A Streptococcus Carrier Strains 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(11):4128-4138.
Humans commonly carry pathogenic bacteria asymptomatically, but the molecular factors underlying microbial asymptomatic carriage are poorly understood. We previously reported that two epidemiologically unassociated serotype M3 group A Streptococcus (GAS) carrier strains had an identical 12-bp deletion in the promoter of the gene encoding Mga, a global positive gene regulator. Herein, we report on studies designed to test the hypothesis that the identified 12-bp deletion in the mga promoter alters GAS virulence, thereby potentially contributing to the asymptomatic carrier phenotype. Using allelic exchange, we introduced the variant promoter into a serotype M3 invasive strain and the wild-type promoter into an asymptomatic carrier strain. Compared to strains with the wild-type mga promoter, we discovered that strains containing the promoter with the 12-bp deletion produced significantly fewer mga and Mga-regulated gene transcripts. Consistent with decreased mga transcripts, strains containing the variant mga promoter were also significantly less virulent in in vivo and ex vivo models of GAS disease. Further, we provide evidence that the pleiotropic regulator protein CodY binds to the mga promoter and that the 12-bp deletion in the mga promoter reduces CodY-mediated mga transcription. We conclude that the naturally occurring 12-bp deletion in the mga promoter significantly alters the pathogen-host interaction of these asymptomatic carrier strains. Our findings provide new insight into the molecular basis of the carrier state of an important human pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3811816  PMID: 23980109
18.  Dual-Site Phosphorylation of the Control of Virulence Regulator Impacts Group A Streptococcal Global Gene Expression and Pathogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004088.
Phosphorylation relays are a major mechanism by which bacteria alter transcription in response to environmental signals, but understanding of the functional consequences of bacterial response regulator phosphorylation is limited. We sought to characterize how phosphorylation of the control of virulence regulator (CovR) protein from the major human pathogen group A Streptococcus (GAS) influences GAS global gene expression and pathogenesis. CovR mainly serves to repress GAS virulence factor-encoding genes and has been shown to homodimerize following phosphorylation on aspartate-53 (D53) in vitro. We discovered that CovR is phosphorylated in vivo and that such phosphorylation is partially heat-stable, suggesting additional phosphorylation at non-aspartate residues. Using mass spectroscopy along with targeted mutagenesis, we identified threonine-65 (T65) as an additional CovR phosphorylation site under control of the serine/threonine kinase (Stk). Phosphorylation on T65, as mimicked by the recombinant CovR T65E variant, abolished in vitro CovR D53 phosphorylation. Similarly, isoallelic GAS strains that were either unable to be phosphorylated at D53 (CovR-D53A) or had functional constitutive phosphorylation at T65 (CovR-T65E) had essentially an identical gene repression profile to each other and to a CovR-inactivated strain. However, the CovR-D53A and CovR-T65E isoallelic strains retained the ability to positively influence gene expression that was abolished in the CovR-inactivated strain. Consistent with these observations, the CovR-D53A and CovR-T65E strains were hypervirulent compared to the CovR-inactivated strain in a mouse model of invasive GAS disease. Surprisingly, an isoalleic strain unable to be phosphorylated at CovR T65 (CovR-T65A) was hypervirulent compared to the wild-type strain, as auto-regulation of covR gene expression resulted in lower covR gene transcript and CovR protein levels in the CovR-T65A strain. Taken together, these data establish that CovR is phosphorylated in vivo and elucidate how the complex interplay between CovR D53 activating phosphorylation, T65 inhibiting phosphorylation, and auto-regulation impacts streptococcal host-pathogen interaction.
Author Summary
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes a variety of human diseases ranging from mild throat infections to deadly invasive infections. The capacity of GAS to cause infections at such diverse locations is dependent on its ability to precisely control the production of a broad variety of virulence factors. The control of virulence regulator (CovR) is a master regulator of GAS genes encoding virulence factors. It is known that CovR can be phosphorylated on aspartate-53 in vitro and that such phosphorylation increases its regulatory activity, but what additional factors influence CovR-mediated gene expression have not been established. Herein we show for the first time that CovR is phosphorylated in vivo and that phosphorylation of CovR on threonine-65 by the threonine/serine kinase Stk prevents aspartate-53 phosphorylation, thereby decreasing CovR regulatory activity. Further, while CovR-mediated gene repression is highly dependent on aspartate-53 phosphorylation, CovR-mediated gene activation proceeds via a phosphorylation-independent mechanism. Modifications in CovR phosphorylation sites significantly affected the expression of GAS virulence factors during infection and markedly altered the ability of GAS to cause disease in mice. These data establish that multiple inter-related pathways converge to influence CovR phosphorylation, thereby providing new insight into the complex regulatory network used by GAS during infection.
PMCID: PMC4006921  PMID: 24788524
19.  Streptococcus mitis Strains Causing Severe Clinical Disease in Cancer Patients 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(5):762-771.
The genetically diverse viridans group streptococci (VGS) are increasingly recognized as the cause of a variety of human diseases. We used a recently developed multilocus sequence analysis scheme to define the species of 118 unique VGS strains causing bacteremia in patients with cancer; Streptococcus mitis (68 patients) and S. oralis (22 patients) were the most frequently identified strains. Compared with patients infected with non–S. mitis strains, patients infected with S. mitis strains were more likely to have moderate or severe clinical disease (e.g., VGS shock syndrome). Combined with the sequence data, whole-genome analyses showed that S. mitis strains may more precisely be considered as >2 species. Furthermore, we found that multiple S. mitis strains induced disease in neutropenic mice in a dose-dependent fashion. Our data define the prominent clinical effect of the group of organisms currently classified as S. mitis and lay the groundwork for increased understanding of this understudied pathogen.
PMCID: PMC4012796  PMID: 24750901
viridans group streptococci; bacteremia; neutropenia; Pitt bacteremia score; Streptococcus mitis; cancer patients; cancer; multilocus sequence analysis; bacteria; characterization
20.  Polymorphisms in Regulator of Protease B (RopB) Alter Disease Phenotype and Strain Virulence of Serotype M3 Group A Streptococcus 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;205(11):1719-1729.
Whole-genome sequencing of serotype M3 group A streptococci (GAS) from oropharyngeal and invasive infections in Ontario recently showed that the gene encoding regulator of protease B (RopB) is highly polymorphic in this population. To test the hypothesis that ropB is under diversifying selective pressure among all serotype M3 GAS strains, we sequenced this gene in 1178 strains collected from different infection types, geographic regions, and time periods. The results confirmed our hypothesis and discovered a significant association between mutant ropB alleles, decreased activity of its major regulatory target SpeB, and pharyngitis. Additionally, isoallelic strains with ropB polymorphisms were significantly less virulent in a mouse model of necrotizing fasciitis. These studies provide a model strategy for applying whole-genome sequencing followed by deep single-gene sequencing to generate new insight to the rapid evolution and virulence regulation of human pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4447876  PMID: 22262791
21.  Structural mechanism of Staphylococcus aureus Hfq binding to an RNA A-tract 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(21):11023-11035.
Hfq is a post-transcriptional regulator that plays a key role in bacterial gene expression by binding AU-rich sequences and A-tracts to facilitate the annealing of sRNAs to target mRNAs and to affect RNA stability. To understand how Hfq from the Gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (Sa) binds A-tract RNA, we determined the crystal structure of an Sa Hfq–adenine oligoribonucleotide complex. The structure reveals a bipartite RNA-binding motif on the distal face that is composed of a purine nucleotide-specificity site (R-site) and a non-discriminating linker site (L-site). The (R–L)-binding motif, which is also utilized by Bacillus subtilis Hfq to bind (AG)3A, differs from the (A–R–N) tripartite poly(A) RNA-binding motif of Escherichia coli Hfq whereby the Sa Hfq R-site strongly prefers adenosine, is more aromatic and permits deeper insertion of the adenine ring. R-site adenine-stacking residue Phe30, which is conserved among Gram-positive bacterial Hfqs, and an altered conformation about β3 and β4 eliminate the adenosine-specificity site (A-site) and create the L-site. Binding studies show that Sa Hfq binds (AU)3A ≈ (AG)3A ≥ (AC)3A > (AA)3A and L-site residue Lys33 plays a significant role. The (R–L) motif is likely utilized by Hfqs from most Gram-positive bacteria to bind alternating (A–N)n RNA.
PMCID: PMC3505971  PMID: 22965117
22.  Niche-specific contribution to streptococcal virulence of a MalR-regulated carbohydrate binding protein 
Molecular microbiology  2011;81(2):500-514.
Low G+C Gram-positive bacteria typically contain multiple LacI/GalR regulator family members which often have highly similar amino-terminal DNA binding domains suggesting significant overlap in target DNA sequences. The LacI/GalR family regulator catabolite control protein A (CcpA) is a global regulator of the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) transcriptome and contributes to GAS virulence in diverse infection sites. Herein, we studied the role of the maltose repressor (MalR), another LacI/GalR family member, in GAS global gene expression and virulence. MalR inactivation reduced GAS colonization of the mouse orophyarnx but did not detrimentally affect invasive infection. The MalR transcriptome was limited to only 25 genes, and a highly conserved MalR DNA-binding sequence was identified. Variation of the MalR binding sequence significantly reduced MalR binding in vitro. In contrast, CcpA bound to the same DNA sequences as MalR but tolerated variation in the promoter sequences with minimal change in binding affinity. Inactivation of pulA, a MalR regulated gene which encodes a cell-surface carbohydrate binding protein, significantly reduced GAS human epithelial cell adhesion and mouse oropharyngeal colonization but did not affect GAS invasive disease. These data delineate a molecular mechanism by which hierarchical regulation of carbon source utilization influences bacterial pathogenesis in a site-specific fashion.
PMCID: PMC3147245  PMID: 21645132
Streptococcus; maltodextrin; pharyngitis; adhesion
23.  Distinct Single Amino Acid Replacements in the Control of Virulence Regulator Protein Differentially Impact Streptococcal Pathogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002311.
Sequencing of invasive strains of group A streptococci (GAS) has revealed a diverse array of single nucleotide polymorphisms in the gene encoding the control of virulence regulator (CovR) protein. However, there is limited information regarding the molecular mechanisms by which CovR single amino acid replacements impact GAS pathogenesis. The crystal structure of the CovR C-terminal DNA-binding domain was determined to 1.50 Å resolution and revealed a three-stranded β-sheet followed by a winged helix-turn-helix DNA binding motif. Modeling of the CovR protein-DNA complex indicated that CovR single amino acid replacements observed in clinical GAS isolates could directly alter protein-DNA interaction and impact protein structure. Isoallelic GAS strains that varied by a single amino acid replacement in the CovR DNA binding domain had significantly different transcriptomes compared to wild-type and to each other. Similarly, distinct recombinant CovR variants had differential binding affinity for DNA from the promoter regions of several virulence factor-encoding genes. Finally, mice that were challenged with GAS CovR isoallelic strains had significantly different survival times, which correlated with the transcriptome and protein-DNA binding studies. Taken together, these data provide structural and functional insights into the critical and distinct effects of variation in the CovR protein on GAS pathogenesis.
Author Summary
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes a variety of human infections including invasive disease that can often be deadly. GAS strains that cause serious infections may have alterations in the amino acid sequence of the control of virulence regulator (CovR) protein, but mechanisms by which changes in the CovR protein influence GAS disease are not understood. We determined the crystal structure of the CovR DNA binding region and found that alterations in the CovR protein observed in clinical, invasive GAS isolates are likely to disrupt CovR-DNA interaction and overall CovR structure. In accord with the structural data, CovR proteins with a single amino acid change had distinctly different binding affinities for various GAS virulence-factor encoding genes. Similarly, GAS strains that differed by only the presence of a single CovR amino acid change had distinct gene expression profiles. Finally, mice that were challenged with GAS strains that differed by only a single CovR amino acid replacement had significantly different survival times consistent with the idea that alterations in the CovR protein are a key determinant of clinical outcomes in GAS human infections. These findings provide mechanistic insights into how subtle genetic differences can profoundly impact the severity of bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC3197619  PMID: 22028655
24.  Naturally occurring single amino acid replacements in a regulatory protein alter streptococcal gene expression and virulence in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2011;121(5):1956-1968.
Infection with different strains of the same species of bacteria often results in vastly different clinical outcomes. Despite extensive investigation, the genetic basis of microbial strain-specific virulence remains poorly understood. Recent whole-genome sequencing has revealed that SNPs are the most prevalent form of genetic diversity among different strains of the same species of bacteria. For invasive serotype M3 group A streptococci (GAS) strains, the gene encoding regulator of proteinase B (RopB) has the highest frequency of SNPs. Here, we have determined that ropB polymorphisms alter RopB function and modulate GAS host-pathogen interactions. Sequencing of ropB in 171 invasive serotype M3 GAS strains identified 19 distinct ropB alleles. Inactivation of the ropB gene in strains producing distinct RopB variants had dramatically divergent effects on GAS global gene expression. Additionally, generation of isoallelic GAS strains differing only by a single amino acid in RopB confirmed that variant proteins affected transcript levels of the gene encoding streptococcal proteinase B, a major RopB-regulated virulence factor. Comparison of parental, RopB-inactivated, and RopB isoallelic strains in mouse infection models demonstrated that ropB polymorphisms influence GAS virulence and disease manifestations. These data detail a paradigm in which unbiased, whole-genome sequence analysis of populations of clinical bacterial isolates creates new avenues of productive investigation into the pathogenesis of common human infections.
PMCID: PMC3083769  PMID: 21490401
25.  The role of complex carbohydrate catabolism in the pathogenesis of invasive streptococci 
Trends in microbiology  2008;16(7):318-325.
Historically, the study of bacterial catabolism of complex carbohydrates has contributed to understanding basic bacterial physiology. Recently, however, genome-wide screens of streptococcal pathogenesis have identified genes encoding proteins involved in complex carbohydrate catabolism as participating in pathogen infectivity. Subsequent studies have focused on specific mechanisms by which carbohydrate utilization proteins might contribute to the ability of streptococci to colonize and infect the host. Moreover, transcriptome and biochemical analyses have uncovered novel regulatory pathways by which streptococci link environmental carbohydrate availability to virulence factor production. Herein we review new insights into the role of complex carbohydrates in streptococcal host-pathogen interaction.
PMCID: PMC2975494  PMID: 18508271

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