Group A streptococcus (GAS) causes a wide variety of human diseases, and at the same time, GAS can also circulate without producing symptoms, similar to its close commensal relative, group G streptococcus (GGS). We previously identified, by transposon-tagged mutagenesis, the streptococcal invasion locus (sil). sil is a quorum-sensing regulated locus which is activated by the autoinducer peptide SilCR through the two-component system SilA-SilB. Here we characterize the DNA promoter region necessary for SilA-mediated activation. This site is composed of two direct repeats of 10 bp, separated by a spacer of 11 bp. Fusion of this site to gfp allowed us to systematically introduce single-base substitutions in the repeats region and to assess the relative contribution of various positions to promoter strength. We then developed an algorithm giving different weights to these positions, and performed a chromosome-wide bioinformatics search which was validated by transcriptome analysis. We identified 13 genes, mostly bacteriocin related, that are directly under the control of SilA. Having developed the ability to quantify SilCR signaling via GFP accumulation prompted us to search for GAS and GGS strains that sense and produce SilCR. While the majority of GAS strains lost sil, all GGS strains examined still possess the locus and ∼63% are able to respond to exogenously added SilCR. By triggering the autoinduction circle using a minute concentration of synthetic SilCR, we identified GAS and GGS strains that are capable of sensing and naturally producing SilCR, and showed that SilCR can be sensed across these streptococci species. These findings suggest that sil may be involved in colonization and establishment of commensal host-bacterial relationships.
Cell-to-cell communication in bacteria is termed quorum-sensing (QS), which is triggered by signaling molecules called autoinducers. In streptococci, autoinducers are synthesized as immature peptides that are processed, secreted, and then sensed by two-component systems (TCSs). As a result, the autoinducer's own expression is upregulated (autoinduction), subsequently creating an ultrasensitive switch that turns on more genes. Group A streptococcus (GAS) is a human pathogen that causes many infections, including necrotizing fasciitis (NF). Previously, we identified in a NF GAS strain a QS locus termed streptococcal invasion locus (sil). Due to a mutation in the autoinducer peptide-SilCR, it is not produced by this strain. Here we sought to better explore sil and to examine if SilCR can be produced by other GAS strains, or strains of its close relative group G streptococcus (GGS). To this end, we characterized the DNA promoter region responsible for the TCS-mediated activation upon sensing of SilCR, and based on bioinformatics and transcriptome analyses we identified genes that are directly affected by the autoinducer peptide. By converting SilCR response to fluorescence production and turning on the autoinduction circle with minute concentrations of synthetic SilCR, we discovered naturally SilCR-producing GAS and GGS strains, and showed that SilCR can be sensed across these species. Our study describes a novel way of cell-to-cell communications among streptococci.