The SpxA1 and SpxA2 (formerly SpxA and SpxB) transcriptional regulators of Streptococcus mutans are members of a highly conserved family of proteins found in Firmicutes, and they were previously shown to activate oxidative stress responses. In this study, we showed that SpxA1 exerts substantial positive regulatory influence over oxidative stress genes following exposure to H2O2, while SpxA2 appears to have a secondary regulatory role. In vitro transcription (IVT) assays using purified SpxA1 and/or SpxA2 showed that SpxA1 and, less often, SpxA2 directly activate transcription of some of the major oxidative stress genes. Addition of equimolar concentrations of SpxA1 and SpxA2 to the IVT reactions neither enhanced transcription of the tested genes nor disrupted the dominant role of SpxA1. Substitution of a conserved glycine residue (G52) present in both Spx proteins by arginine (SpxG52R) resulted in strains that phenocopied the Δspx strains. Moreover, addition of purified SpxA1G52R completely failed to activate transcription of ahpC, sodA, and tpx, further confirming that the G52 residue is critical for Spx functionality.
Streptococcus mutans is a pathogen associated with the formation of dental caries in humans. Within the oral cavity, S. mutans routinely encounters oxidative stress. Our previous data revealed that two regulatory proteins, SpxA1 and SpxA2 (formerly SpxA and SpxB), bear high homology to the Spx regulator that has been characterized as a critical activator of oxidative stress genes in Bacillus subtilis. In this report, we prove that Spx proteins of S. mutans directly activate transcription of genes involved in the oxidative stress response, though SpxA1 appears to have a more dominant role than SpxA2. Therefore, the Spx regulators play a critical role in the ability of S. mutans to thrive within the oral cavity.
Streptococcus mutans is the etiological agent of dental caries and one of the many bacterial species implicated in infective endocarditis. The expression of the collagen-binding protein Cnm by S. mutans has been associated with extraoral infections, but its relevance for dental caries has only been theorized to date. Due to the collagenous composition of dentinal and root tissues, we hypothesized that Cnm may facilitate the colonization of these surfaces, thereby enhancing the pathogenic potential of S. mutans in advancing carious lesions. As shown for extraoral endothelial cell lines, Cnm mediates the invasion of oral keratinocytes and fibroblasts by S. mutans. In this study, we show that in the Cnm+ native strain, OMZ175, Cnm mediates stringent adhesion to dentinal and root tissues as well as collagen-coated surfaces and promotes both cariogenicity and carriage in vivo. In vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo experiments revealed that while Cnm is not universally required for S. mutans cariogenicity, it contributes to (i) the invasion of the oral epithelium, (ii) enhanced binding on collagenous surfaces, (iii) implantation of oral biofilms, and (IV) the severity of caries due to a native Cnm+ isolate. Taken together, our findings reveal that Cnm is a colonization factor that contributes to the pathogenicity of certain S. mutans strains in their native habitat, the oral cavity.
In oral biofilms, two of the major environmental challenges encountered by the dental pathogen Streptococcus mutans are acid and oxidative stresses. Previously, we showed that the S. mutans transcriptional regulators SpxA1 and SpxA2 (formerly SpxA and SpxB, respectively) are involved in stress survival by activating the expression of classic oxidative stress genes such as dpr, nox, sodA and tpx. We reasoned that some of the uncharacterized genes under SpxA1/A2 control are potentially involved in oxidative stress management. Therefore, the goal of this study was to use Spx-regulated genes as a tool to identify novel oxidative stress genes in S. mutans. Quantitative real-time PCR was used to evaluate the responses of ten Spx-regulated genes during H2O2 stress in the parent and Δspx strains. Transcription activation of the H2O2-induced genes (8 out of 10) was strongly dependent on SpxA1 and, to a lesser extent, SpxA2. In vitro transcription assays revealed that one or both Spx proteins directly regulate three of these genes. The gene encoding the FeoB ferrous permease was slightly repressed by H2O2 but constitutively induced in strains lacking SpxA1. Nine genes were selected for downstream mutational analysis but inactivation of smu127, encoding a subunit of the acetoin dehydrogenase was apparently lethal. In vitro and in vivo characterization of the viable mutants indicated that, in addition to the transcriptional activation of reducing and antioxidant pathways, Spx performs an important role in iron homeostasis by regulating the intracellular availability of free iron. In particular, inactivation of the genes encoding the Fe-S biogenesis SUF system and the previously characterized iron-binding protein Dpr resulted in impaired growth under different oxidative stress conditions, increased sensitivity to iron and lower infectivity in rats. These results serve as an entryway into the characterization of novel genes and pathways that allow S. mutans to cope with oxidative stress.
Expression of the surface protein Cnm has been directly implicated in the ability of certain strains of Streptococcus mutans to bind to collagen and to invade human coronary artery endothelial cells (HCAEC) and in the killing of Galleria mellonella. Sequencing analysis of Cnm+ strains revealed that cnm is located between the core genes SMU.2067 and SMU.2069. Reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) analysis showed that cnm is cotranscribed with SMU.2067, encoding a putative glycosyltransferase referred to here as PgfS (protein glycosyltransferase of streptococci). Notably, Cnm contains a threonine-rich domain predicted to undergo O-linked glycosylation. The previously shown abnormal migration pattern of Cnm, the presence of the threonine-rich domain, and the molecular linkage of cnm with pgfS lead us to hypothesize that PgfS modifies Cnm. A ΔpgfS strain showed defects in several traits associated with Cnm expression, including collagen binding, HCAEC invasion, and killing of G. mellonella. Western blot analysis revealed that Cnm from the ΔpgfS mutant migrated at a lower molecular weight than that from the parent strain. In addition, Cnm produced by ΔpgfS was highly susceptible to proteinase K degradation, in contrast to the high-molecular-weight Cnm version found in the parent strain. Lectin-binding analyses confirmed the glycosylated nature of Cnm and strongly suggested the presence of N-acetylglucosamine residues attached to Cnm. Based on these findings, the phenotypes observed in ΔpgfS are most likely associated with defects in Cnm glycosylation that affects protein function, stability, or both. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that Cnm is a glycoprotein and that posttranslational modification mediated by PgfS contributes to the virulence-associated phenotypes linked to Cnm.
Despite the enormous contributions of the bacterial paradigms Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis to basic and applied research, it is well known that no single organism can be a perfect representative of all other species. However, given that some bacteria are difficult, or virtually impossible, to cultivate in the laboratory, that some are recalcitrant to genetic and molecular manipulation, and that others can be extremely dangerous to manipulate, the use of model organisms will continue to play an important role in the development of basic research. In particular, model organisms are very useful for providing a better understanding of the biology of closely related species. Here, we discuss how the lifestyle, the availability of suitable in vitro and in vivo systems, and a thorough understanding of the genetics, biochemistry and physiology of the dental pathogen Streptococcus mutans have greatly advanced our understanding of important areas in the field of bacteriology such as interspecies biofilms, competence development and stress responses. In this article, we provide an argument that places S. mutans, an organism that evolved in close association with the human host, as a novel Gram-positive model organism.
Streptococcus mutans, the primary causative agent of dental caries, contains two paralogues of the LytR-CpsA-Psr family proteins encoded by brpA and psr, respectively. Previous studies have shown that BrpA plays an important role in cell envelope biogenesis/homeostasis and affects stress responses and biofilm formation by Strep. mutans, traits critical to cariogenicity of this bacterium. In this study, a Psr-deficient mutant, TW251, was constructed. Characterization of TW251 showed that deficiency of Psr did not have any major impact on growth rate. However, when subjected to acid killing at pH 2.8, the survival rate of TW251 was decreased dramatically compared with the parent strain UA159. In addition, TW251 also displayed major defects in biofilm formation, especially during growth with sucrose. When compared to UA159, the biofilms of TW251 were mainly planar and devoid of extracellular glucans. Real-time-PCR and Western blot analyses revealed that deficiency of Psr significantly decreased the expression of glucosyltransferase C, a protein known to play a major role in biofilm formation by Strep. mutans. Transmission electron microscopy analysis showed that deficiency of BrpA caused alterations in cell envelope and cell division, and the most significant defects were observed in TW314, a Psr-deficient and BrpA-down mutant. No such effects were observed with Psr mutant TW251 under similar conditions. These results suggest that while there are similarities in functions between BrpA and Psr, distinctive differences also exist between these two paralogues. Like Bacillus subtilis but different from Staphylococcus aureus, a functional BrpA or Psr is required for viability in Strep. mutans.
The stringent response (SR), mediated by the alarmone (p)ppGpp, is a conserved bacterial adaptation system controlling broad metabolic alterations necessary for survival under adverse conditions. In Enterococcus faecalis, production of (p)ppGpp is controlled by the bifunctional protein RSH (for “Rel SpoT homologue”; also known as RelA) and by the monofunctional synthetase RelQ. Previous characterization of E. faecalis strains lacking rsh, relQ, or both revealed that RSH is responsible for activation of the SR and that alterations in (p)ppGpp production negatively impact bacterial stress survival and virulence. Despite its well-characterized role as the effector of the SR, the significance of (p)ppGpp during balanced growth remains poorly understood. Microarrays of E. faecalis strains producing different basal amounts of (p)ppGpp identified several genes and pathways regulated by modest changes in (p)ppGpp. Notably, expression of numerous genes involved in energy generation were induced in the ∆rsh ∆relQ [(p)ppGpp0] strain, suggesting that a lack of basal (p)ppGpp places the cell in a “transcriptionally relaxed” state. Alterations in the fermentation profile and increased production of H2O2 in the (p)ppGpp0 strain substantiate the observed transcriptional changes. We confirm that, similar to what is seen in Bacillus subtilis, (p)ppGpp directly inhibits the activity of enzymes involved in GTP biosynthesis, and complete loss of (p)ppGpp leads to dysregulation of GTP homeostasis. Finally, we show that the association of (p)ppGpp with antibiotic survival does not relate to the SR but rather relates to basal (p)ppGpp pools. Collectively, this study highlights the critical but still underappreciated role of basal (p)ppGpp pools under balanced growth conditions.
Drug-resistant bacterial infections continue to pose a significant public health threat by limiting therapeutic options available to care providers. The stringent response (SR), mediated by the accumulation of two modified guanine nucleotides collectively known as (p)ppGpp, is a highly conserved stress response that broadly remodels bacterial physiology to a survival state. Given the strong correlation of the SR with the ability of bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment and the direct association of (p)ppGpp production with bacterial infectivity, understanding how bacteria produce and utilize (p)ppGpp may reveal potential targets for the development of new antimicrobial therapies. Using the multidrug-resistant pathogen Enterococcus faecalis as a model, we show that small alterations to (p)ppGpp levels, well below concentrations needed to trigger the SR, severely affected bacterial metabolism and antibiotic survival. Our findings highlight the often-underappreciated contribution of basal (p)ppGpp levels to metabolic balance and stress tolerance in bacteria.
In Enterococcus faecalis, production of guanosine tetraphosphate/guanosine pentaphosphate [(p)ppGpp], the effector molecule of the stringent response, is controlled by the bifunctional synthetase/hydrolase RelA and the monofunctional synthetase RelQ. Previously, the (p)ppGpp profiles of strains lacking relA, relQ or both genes indicated that RelA is the primary enzyme responsible for (p)ppGpp synthesis under stress conditions, while the contributions of RelQ to the stringent response and cell homeostasis remained elusive. Here, survival within the mouse-derived macrophage cell line J774A.1 and killing of Galleria mellonella supported initial evidence that virulence was attenuated in the (p)ppGpp0 ΔrelAΔrelQ strain but not in the ΔrelA or ΔrelQ strains. We performed, for the first time to our knowledge, global transcriptome analysis in a documented (p)ppGpp0 Gram-positive bacterium and provided the first insights into the role of a Gram-positive monofunctional (p)ppGpp synthetase in transcriptional regulation. Transcription profiling after mupirocin treatment confirmed that RelA is the major enzyme responsible for the (p)ppGpp-mediated transcriptional repression of genes associated with macromolecular biosynthesis, but also revealed that RelQ is required for full and timely stringent response induction. The delayed transcriptional response of ΔrelQ could not be correlated with reduced or slower production of (p)ppGpp, in part because RelA-dependent (p)ppGpp accumulation occurred very rapidly. Comparisons of the transcriptional responses of ΔrelA or ΔrelAΔrelQ strains with the parent strain under starvation conditions revealed upregulation of operons involved in energy metabolism in the (p)ppGpp0 strain. Thus, while ΔrelA and ΔrelAΔrelQ cannot use (p)ppGpp to sense and respond to stresses, fitness of ΔrelAΔrelQ may be further impaired due to an unbalanced metabolism.
Enterococcus faecalis is an opportunistic nosocomial pathogen that is highly resistant to a variety of environmental insults, including an intrinsic tolerance to antimicrobials that target the cell wall (CW). With the goal of determining the CW-stress stimulon of E. faecalis, the global transcriptional profile of E. faecalis OG1RF exposed to ampicillin, bacitracin, cephalotin or vancomycin was obtained via microarrays. Exposure to the β-lactams ampicillin and cephalotin resulted in the fewest transcriptional changes with 50 and 192 genes differentially expressed 60 min after treatment, respectively. On the other hand, treatment with bacitracin or vancomycin for 60 min affected the expression of, respectively, 377 and 297 genes. Despite the differences in the total number of genes affected, all antibiotics induced a very similar gene expression pattern with an overrepresentation of genes encoding hypothetical proteins, followed by genes encoding proteins associated with cell envelope metabolism as well as transport and binding proteins. In particular, all drug treatments, most notably bacitracin and vancomycin, resulted in an apparent metabolic downshift based on the repression of genes involved in translation, energy metabolism, transport and binding. Only 19 genes were up-regulated by all conditions at both the 30 and 60 min time points. Among those 19 genes, 4 genes encoding hypothetical proteins (EF0026, EF0797, EF1533 and EF3245) were inactivated and the respective mutant strains characterized in relation to antibiotic tolerance and virulence in the Galleria mellonella model. The phenotypes obtained for two of these mutants, ΔEF1533 and ΔEF3245, support further characterization of these genes as potential candidates for the development of novel preventive or therapeutic approaches.
High coverage, whole genome shotgun (WGS) sequencing of 57 geographically- and genetically-diverse isolates of Streptococcus mutans from individuals of known dental caries status was recently completed. Of the 57 sequenced strains, fifteen isolates, were selected based primarily on differences in gene content and phenotypic characteristics known to affect virulence and compared with the reference strain UA159. A high degree of variability in these properties was observed between strains, with a broad spectrum of sensitivities to low pH, oxidative stress (air and paraquat) and exposure to competence stimulating peptide (CSP). Significant differences in autolytic behavior and in biofilm development in glucose or sucrose were also observed. Natural genetic competence varied among isolates, and this was correlated to the presence or absence of competence genes, comCDE and comX, and to bacteriocins. In general strains that lacked the ability to become competent possessed fewer genes for bacteriocins and immunity proteins or contained polymorphic variants of these genes. WGS sequence analysis of the pan-genome revealed, for the first time, components of a Type VII secretion system in several S. mutans strains, as well as two putative ORFs that encode possible collagen binding proteins located upstream of the cnm gene, which is associated with host cell invasiveness. The virulence of these particular strains was assessed in a wax-worm model. This is the first study to combine a comprehensive analysis of key virulence-related phenotypes with extensive genomic analysis of a pathogen that evolved closely with humans. Our analysis highlights the phenotypic diversity of S. mutans isolates and indicates that the species has evolved a variety of adaptive strategies to persist in the human oral cavity and, when conditions are favorable, to initiate disease.
The ability to cope with endogenous or host-generated reactive oxygen species is considered a key virulence attribute of the opportunistic pathogen Enterococcus faecalis, a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. In this study, we used in silico and mutational analyses to identify and characterize the role of the Spx global regulator in oxidative stress tolerance and virulence in E. faecalis. While the Δspx strain grew as well as the wild-type strain under anaerobic conditions, the mutant strain exhibited impaired growth under aerobic conditions and was highly sensitive to oxidative stress agents. The spx mutant strain was also sensitive to a variety of other stressful conditions, including antibiotic stress and killing by the mouse-derived macrophage cell line J774. Using a murine model of foreign body-associated peritonitis, we demonstrated that the ability of the Δspx strain to colonize the peritoneum and disseminate in the bloodstream was significantly reduced compared to that of the parent strain. Transcriptional analysis revealed that a large number of known oxidative stress genes are under positive control by Spx. Collectively, our results show that Spx is a major stress gene regulator and is implicated in the pathophysiology of E. faecalis. The relationship of Spx to other oxidative stress regulators is also discussed.
The ClpXP proteolytic complex is critical for maintaining cellular homeostasis, as well as expression of virulence properties. However, with the exception of the Spx global regulator, the molecular mechanisms by which the ClpXP complex exerts its influence in Streptococcus mutans are not well understood. Here, microarray analysis was used to provide novel insights into the scope of ClpXP proteolysis in S. mutans. In a ΔclpP strain, 288 genes showed significant changes in relative transcript amounts (P≤0.001, twofold cut-off) as compared with the parent. Similarly, 242 genes were differentially expressed by a ΔclpX strain, 113 (47 %) of which also appeared in the ΔclpP microarrays. Several genes associated with cell growth were downregulated in both mutants, consistent with the slow-growth phenotype of the Δclp strains. Among the upregulated genes were those encoding enzymes required for the biosynthesis of intracellular polysaccharides (glg genes) and malolactic fermentation (mle genes). Enhanced expression of glg and mle genes in ΔclpP and ΔclpX strains correlated with increased storage of intracellular polysaccharide and enhanced malolactic fermentation activity, respectively. Expression of several genes known or predicted to be involved in competence and mutacin production was downregulated in the Δclp strains. Follow-up transformation efficiency and deferred antagonism assays validated the microarray data by showing that competence and mutacin production were dramatically impaired in the Δclp strains. Collectively, our results reveal the broad scope of ClpXP regulation in S. mutans homeostasis and identify several virulence-related traits that are influenced by ClpXP proteolysis.
Streptococcus mutans is considered the primary etiologic agent of dental caries, a global health problem that affects 60 to 90% of the population, and a leading causative agent of infective endocarditis. It can be divided into four different serotypes (c, e, f, and k), with serotype c strains being the most common in the oral cavity. In this study, we demonstrate that in addition to OMZ175 and B14, three other strains (NCTC11060, LM7, and OM50E) of the less prevalent serotypes e and f are able to invade primary human coronary artery endothelial cells (HCAEC). Invasive strains were also significantly more virulent than noninvasive strains in the Galleria mellonella (greater wax worm) model of systemic disease. Interestingly, the invasive strains carried an additional gene, cnm, which was previously shown to bind to collagen and laminin in vitro. Inactivation of cnm rendered the organisms unable to invade HCAEC and attenuated their virulence in G. mellonella. Notably, the cnm knockout strains did not adhere to HCAEC as efficiently as the parental strains did, indicating that the loss of the invasion phenotype observed for the mutants was linked to an adhesion defect. Comparisons of the invasive strains and their respective cnm mutants did not support a correlation between biofilm formation and invasion. Thus, Cnm is required for S. mutans invasion of endothelial cells and possibly represents an important virulence factor of S. mutans that may contribute to cardiovascular infections and pathologies.
Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus are considered the primary organisms responsible for human dental caries. The ability to generate acids and to adapt to low pH conditions is directly associated with the cariogenic potential of these bacteria. To survive acidic conditions, both species have been shown to mount an acid tolerance response (ATR). However, previous characterization of the S. sobrinus ATR identified critical differences in the mechanisms of acid adaptation between S. mutans and S. sobrinus. Here, interspecies microarray and proteomic approaches were used to identify novel, previously unrecognized genes and pathways that participate in the S. sobrinus acid stress response. The results revealed that, among other things, metabolic alterations that enhance energy generation and upregulation of the malolactic fermentation enzyme activity constitute important acid resistance properties in S. sobrinus. Some of these acid adaptive traits are shared by S. mutans and might be considered optimal targets for therapeutic treatments designed to control dental caries.
caries; mutans streptococci; acid stress; mleS
The oral cavity harbors several hundred different bacterial species that colonize both hard (teeth) and soft tissues, forming complex populations known as microbial biofilms. It is widely accepted that the phenotypic characteristics of bacteria grown in biofilms are substantially different from those grown in suspensions. Because biofilms are the natural habitat for the great majority of oral bacteria, including those contributing to oral diseases, a better understanding of the physiology of adherent populations is clearly needed to control oral microbes in health and disease. In this chapter, we use oral streptococci as examples for studying the physiology of oral biofilms.
Biofilm; oral streptococci; Streptococcus; enzymatic assays; stress; production of polysaccharides
Previous work suggested that the underlying mechanisms by which the Streptococcus mutans ClpXP protease affects virulence traits are associated with accumulation of two orthologues of the Spx regulator, named SpxA and SpxB. Here, a thorough characterization of strains lacking the spx genes (ΔspxA, ΔspxB, and ΔspxA ΔspxB) revealed that Spx, indeed, participates in the regulation of processes associated with S. mutans pathogenesis. The ΔspxA strain displayed impaired ability to grow under acidic and oxidative stress conditions and had diminished long-term viability at low pH. Although the ΔspxB strain did not show any inherent stress-sensitive phenotype, the phenotypes observed in ΔspxA were more pronounced in the ΔspxA ΔspxB double mutant. By using two in vivo models, we demonstrate for the first time that Spx is required for virulence in a Gram-positive pathogen. Microarrays confirmed the global regulatory role of SpxA and SpxB. In particular, SpxA was shown to positively regulate genes associated with oxidative stress, a finding supported by enzymatic assays. SpxB had a secondary role in regulation of oxidative stress genes but appeared to play a larger role in controlling processes associated with cell wall homeostasis. Given the high degree of conservation between Spx proteins of low-GC Gram-positive bacteria, these results are likely to have broad implications.
Bacteria adhere to a surface and, through cell division and coordinated expression of gene products, to develop into a structurally-complex population of adherent cells. This process, known as biofilm formation, requires that intrinsic and extrinsic signals are transduced into appropriate gene expression patterns as biofilms mature. Mutational analysis has begun to reveal the complexity of systems used by Streptococcus mutans to ensure proper biofilm formation. These studies have revealed new and unique targets for the design of broadly-effective anti-caries strategies.
Mutational analysis revealed that members of the Clp system, specifically the ClpL chaperone and the ClpXP proteolytic complex, modulate the expression of important virulence attributes of Streptococcus mutans. Compared to its parent, the ΔclpL strain displayed an enhanced capacity to form biofilms in the presence of sucrose, had reduced viability, and was more sensitive to acid killing. The ΔclpP and ΔclpX strains displayed several phenotypes in common: slow growth, tendency to aggregate in culture, reduced autolysis, and reduced ability to grow under stress, including acidic pH. Unexpectedly, the ΔclpP and ΔclpX mutants were more resistant to acid killing and demonstrated enhanced viability in long-term survival assays. Biofilm formation by the ΔclpP and ΔclpX strains was impaired when grown in glucose but enhanced in sucrose. In an animal study, the average number of S. mutans colonies recovered from the teeth of rats infected with the ΔclpP or ΔclpX strain was slightly lower than that of the parent strain. In Bacillus subtilis, the accumulation of the Spx global regulator, a substrate of ClpXP, has accounted for the ΔclpXP phenotypes. Searching the S. mutans genome, we identified two putative spx genes, designated spxA and spxB. The inactivation of either of these genes bypassed phenotypes of the clpP and clpX mutants. Western blotting demonstrated that Spx accumulates in the ΔclpP and ΔclpX strains. Our results reveal that the proteolysis of ClpL and ClpXP plays a role in the expression of key virulence traits of S. mutans and indicates that the underlying mechanisms by which ClpXP affect virulence traits are associated with the accumulation of two Spx orthologues.
The stringent response is a global bacterial response to stress that is mediated by accumulation of the alarmone (p)ppGpp. In this study, treatment with mupirocin was shown to induce high levels of (p)ppGpp production in Enterococcus faecalis, indicating that this nosocomial pathogen can mount a classic stringent response. In addition, (p)ppGpp was found to accumulate in cells subjected to heat shock, alkaline shock, and inhibitory concentrations of vancomycin. Sequence analysis of the E. faecalis genome indicated that (p)ppGpp synthesis is catalyzed by the bifunctional synthetase/hydrolase RelA and the RelQ small synthase. The (p)ppGpp profiles of ΔrelA, ΔrelQ, and ΔrelAQ strains revealed that RelA is the major enzyme responsible for the accumulation of (p)ppGpp during antibiotic or physical stresses, while RelQ appears to be responsible for maintaining basal levels of alarmone during homeostatic growth. Compared to its parent, the ΔrelA strain was more susceptible to several stress conditions, whereas complete elimination of (p)ppGpp in a ΔrelAQ double mutant restored many of the stress-sensitive phenotypes of ΔrelA. Interestingly, growth curves and time-kill studies indicated that tolerance to vancomycin is enhanced in the ΔrelA strain but diminished in the ΔrelQ and ΔrelAQ strains. Finally, virulence of the ΔrelAQ strain but not of the ΔrelA or ΔrelQ strain was significantly attenuated in the Caenorhabditis elegans model. Taken together, these results indicate that (p)ppGpp pools modulate environmental stress responses, vancomycin tolerance, and virulence in this important nosocomial pathogen.
The RelA, RelP, and RelQ enzymes are responsible for the production of the alarmone (p)ppGpp in Streptococcus mutans. A strain lacking all three synthetases (ΔrelAPQ) does not grow in minimal medium lacking the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) leucine or valine but grows well if isoleucine is also omitted. Here, we investigated whether there was a correlation between growth in the absence of leucine and valine with (p)ppGpp pools and the activation of CodY. By using a combination of single, double, and triple mutants lacking the (p)ppGpp synthetase enzymes, we demonstrated that the ability to grow in the absence of leucine or valine required basal levels of (p)ppGpp production by RelP and RelQ. The introduction of a codY mutation into the ΔrelAPQ strain fully restored growth in medium lacking leucine or valine, revealing that the growth-defective phenotype of ΔrelAPQ was directly linked to CodY. Lowering GTP levels through the addition of decoyinine did not alleviate CodY repression or affect the expression of genes involved in BCAA biosynthesis, suggesting that S. mutans CodY is not activated by GTP. The results of phenotypic studies revealed that the codY mutant had a reduced capacity to form biofilms and that its growth was more sensitive to low pH, showing a role for CodY in two key virulence properties of S. mutans. Microarray results revealed the extent of the CodY regulon. Notably, the identification of putative CodY-binding boxes upstream of genes that were downregulated in the codY mutant indicates that CodY may also function as a transcriptional activator in S. mutans.
CcpA globally regulates transcription in response to carbohydrate availability in many gram-positive bacteria, but its role in Streptococcus mutans remains enigmatic. Using the fructan hydrolase (fruA) gene of S. mutans as a model, we demonstrated that CcpA plays a direct role in carbon catabolite repression (CCR). Subsequently, the expression of 170 genes was shown to be differently expressed (≥2-fold) in glucose-grown wild-type (UA159) and CcpA-deficient (TW1) strains (P ≤ 0.001). However, there were differences in expression of only 96 genes between UA159 and TW1 when cells were cultivated with the poorly repressing substrate galactose. Interestingly, 90 genes were expressed differently in wild-type S. mutans when glucose- and galactose-grown cells were compared, but the expression of 515 genes was altered in the CcpA-deficient strain in a similar comparison. Overall, our results supported the hypothesis that CcpA has a major role in CCR and regulation of gene expression but revealed that in S. mutans there is a substantial CcpA-independent network that regulates gene expression in response to the carbohydrate source. Based on the genetic studies, biochemical and physiological experiments demonstrated that loss of CcpA impacts the ability of S. mutans to transport and grow on selected sugars. Also, the CcpA-deficient strain displayed an enhanced capacity to produce acid from intracellular stores of polysaccharides, could grow faster at pH 5.5, and could acidify the environment more rapidly and to a greater extent than the parental strain. Thus, CcpA directly modulates the pathogenic potential of S. mutans through global control of gene expression.
The production of (p)ppGpp by Streptococcus mutans UA159 is catalyzed by three gene products: RelA, RelP, and RelQ. Here, we investigate the role of the RelA (Rel) homologue of S. mutans in the stringent response and in the global control of gene expression. RelA of S. mutans was shown to synthesize pppGpp in vitro from GTP and ATP in the absence of added ribosomes, as well as in vivo in an Escherichia coli relA-spoT mutant. Mupirocin (MUP) was shown to induce high levels of (p)ppGpp production in S. mutans in a relA-dependent manner, with a concomitant reduction in GTP pools. Transcription profiling after MUP treatment of S. mutans revealed that 104 genes were upregulated and 130 were downregulated (P ≤ 0.001); mainly, genes for macromolecular biosynthesis, translation, and energy metabolism were downregulated. When a derivative of UA159 carrying a complete deletion of the relA gene was treated with MUP, 72 genes were upregulated and 52 were downregulated (P ≤ 0.001). The expression of 50 genes (P ≤ 0.001) was commonly affected by MUP treatment in the two strains, suggesting that S. mutans can mount a relA-independent response to MUP. Consistent with the gene expression profiling, RelA was shown to play major roles in the regulation of phenotypic traits that are required for establishment, persistence, and virulence expression by this oral pathogen. Thus, RelA is the major (p)ppGpp synthase controlling the stringent response in S. mutans, and it coordinates the expression of genes and phenotypes that contribute to the pathogenic potential of the organism.
Previously, we presented evidence that the oral cariogenic species Streptococcus mutans remains viable but physiologically impaired and sensitive to environmental stress when genes encoding the minimal conserved bacterial signal recognition particle (SRP) elements are inactivated. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis of isolated membrane fractions from strain UA159 and three mutants (Δffh, ΔscRNA, and ΔftsY) grown at pH 7.0 or pH 5.0 allowed us to obtain insight into the adaptation process and the identities of potential SRP substrates. Mutant membrane preparations contained increased amounts of the chaperones DnaK and GroES and ClpP protease but decreased amounts of transcription- and translation-related proteins, the β subunit of ATPase, HPr, and several metabolic and glycolytic enzymes. Therefore, the acid sensitivity of SRP mutants might be caused in part by diminished ATPase activity, as well as the absence of an efficient mechanism for supplying ATP quickly at the site of proton elimination. Decreased amounts of LuxS were also observed in all mutant membranes. To further define physiological changes that occur upon disruption of the SRP pathway, we studied global gene expression in S. mutans UA159 (parent strain) and AH333 (Δffh mutant) using microarray analysis. Transcriptome analysis revealed up-regulation of 81 genes, including genes encoding chaperones, proteases, cell envelope biosynthetic enzymes, and DNA repair and replication enzymes, and down-regulation of 35 genes, including genes concerned with competence, ribosomal proteins, and enzymes involved in amino acid and protein biosynthesis. Quantitative real-time reverse transcription-PCR analysis of eight selected genes confirmed the microarray data. Consistent with a demonstrated defect in competence and the suggested impairment of LuxS-dependent quorum sensing, biofilm formation was significantly decreased in each SRP mutant.
The phosphoenolpyruvate:sugar phosphotransferase system (PTS) is the major carbohydrate transport system in oral streptococci. The mannose-PTS of Streptococcus mutans, which transports mannose and glucose, is involved in carbon catabolite repression (CCR) and regulates the expression of known virulence genes. In this study, we investigated the role of EIIGlc and EIIABMan in sugar metabolism, gene regulation, biofilm formation, and competence. The results demonstrate that the inactivation of ptsG, encoding a putative EIIGlc, did not lead to major changes in sugar metabolism or affect the phenotypes of interest. However, the loss of EIIGlc was shown to have a significant impact on the proteome and to affect the expression of a known virulence factor, fructan hydrolase (fruA). JAM1, a mutant strain lacking EIIABMan, had an impaired capacity to form biofilms in the presence of glucose and displayed a decreased ability to be transformed with exogenous DNA. Also, the lactose- and cellobiose-PTSs were positively and negatively regulated by EIIABMan, respectively. Microarrays were used to investigate the profound phenotypic changes displayed by JAM1, revealing that EIIABMan of S. mutans has a key regulatory role in energy metabolism, possibly by sensing the energy levels of the cells or the carbohydrate availability and, in response, regulating the activity of transcription factors and carbohydrate transporters.