We previously identified ebpR, encoding a potential member of the AtxA/Mga transcriptional regulator family, and showed that it is important for transcriptional activation of the Enterococcus faecalis endocarditis and biofilm associated pilus operon, ebpABC. Although ebpR is not absolutely essential for ebpABC expression (100-fold reduction), its deletion led to phenotypes similar to those of an ebpABC mutant such as absence of pili at the cell surface and, consequently, reduced biofilm formation. A non-piliated ebpABC mutant has been shown to be attenuated in a rat model of endocarditis and in a murine urinary tract infection model, indicating an important participation of the ebpR-ebpABC locus in virulence. However, there is no report relating to the environmental conditions that affect expression of the ebpR-ebpABC locus.
In this study, we examined the effect of CO2/HCO3-, pH, and the Fsr system on the ebpR-ebpABC locus expression. The presence of 5% CO2/0.1 M HCO3- increased ebpR-ebpABC expression, while the Fsr system was confirmed to be a weak repressor of this locus. The mechanism by which the Fsr system repressed the ebpR-ebpABC locus expression appears independent of the effects of CO2- bicarbonate. Furthermore, by using an ebpA::lacZ fusion as a reporter, we showed that addition of 0.1 M sodium bicarbonate to TSBG (buffered at pH 7.5), but not the presence of 5% CO2, induced ebpA expression in TSBG broth. In addition, using microarray analysis, we found 73 genes affected by the presence of sodium bicarbonate (abs(fold) > 2, P < 0.05), the majority of which belong to the PTS system and ABC transporter families. Finally, pilus production correlated with ebpA mRNA levels under the conditions tested.
This study reports that the ebp locus expression is enhanced by the presence of bicarbonate with a consequential increase in the number of cells producing pili. Although the molecular basis of the bicarbonate effect remains unclear, the pathway is independent of the Fsr system. In conclusion, E. faecalis joins the growing family of pathogens that regulates virulence gene expression in response to bicarbonate and/or CO2.