Shuttle plasmids are among the few routinely utilized tools in the Streptococcus mutans genetic system that still require the use of classical cloning methodologies and intermediate hosts for genetic manipulation. Accordingly, it typically requires considerably less time and effort to introduce mutations onto the S. mutans chromosome than it does to construct shuttle vectors for expressing genes in trans. Occasionally, shuttle vector constructs also exhibit toxicity in E. coli, which prevents their proper assembly. To circumvent these limitations, we modified a prolonged overlap extension PCR (POE-PCR) protocol to facilitate direct plasmid assembly in S. mutans. Using solely PCR, we created the reporter vector pZX7, which contains a single minimal streptococcal replication origin and harbors a spectinomycin resistance cassette and the gusA gene encoding β-glucuronidase. We compared the efficiency of pZX7 assembly using multiple strains of S. mutans and were able to obtain from 5×103 – 2×105 CFU/μg PCR product. Likewise, we used pZX7 to further demonstrate that Streptococcus sanguinis and Streptococcus gordonii are also excellent hosts for cloning-independent plasmid assembly, which suggests that this system is likely to function in numerous other streptococci. Consequently, it should be possible to completely forgo the use of E. coli – Streptococcus shuttle vectors in many streptococcal species, thereby decreasing the time and effort required to assemble constructs and eliminating any toxicity issues associated with intermediate hosts.
Streptococcus mutans; Streptococcus sanguinis; Streptococcus gordonii; shuttle vector; overlap extension PCR
Veillonellae are one of the most prevalent and predominant microorganisms in both the supra- and subgingival plaques of the human oral cavity. Veillonellae’s mutualistic relationships with the early, middle, and late colonizers of the oral cavity make them an important component of oral biofilm ecology. Unlike other ubiquitous early colonizers in the oral cavity, surprisingly little is known about Veillonella biology due to our lack of ability to genetically transform this group of bacteria. The objective of this study was to test the transformability of veillonellae. Using Veillonella parvula strain PK1910, we first obtained spontaneous mutations conferring streptomycin resistance. These mutations all carry a K43N substitution in the RpsL protein. Using the mutated rpsL gene as a selection marker, a variety of conditions were tested and optimized for electroporation. With the optimized protocol, we were able to introduce the first targeted mutation into the chromo-some of V. parvula PK1910. Although more studies are needed to develop a robust genetic manipulation system in veillonellae, our results demonstrated, for the first time, that V. parvula is transformable, at least for strain PK1910.
oral microbiology; veillonellae; mutagenesis
Fusobacterium nucleatum is a ubiquitous member of the human oral flora and is associated with the development of periodontitis and a variety of other types of polymicrobial infections of the mucosa. In the oral cavity, this species is one of the few that is prevalent in both healthy and diseased subgingival plaque. Using microarray analysis, we examined the transcriptional response of F. nucleatum subspecies nucleatum to whole blood in order to identify some of the genetic responses that might occur during the transition from health to disease. From these studies, we identified a sialic acid catabolism operon that was induced by the presence of blood. We subsequently confirmed that this operon was inducible by the presence of synthetic sialic acid, but we found no evidence suggesting sialic acid was used as a major carbon source. However, this organism was found to possess a de novo synthesized surface sialylation ability that is widely conserved among the various F. nucleatum subspecies as well as in F. periodonticum. We provide evidence that fusobacterial sialylation does occur in the oral cavity irrespective of health status. Interestingly, only a minority of fusobacterial cells exhibit surface sialylation within dental plaque, whereas most cells are uniformly sialylated when grown in pure culture. The implications of these results are discussed.
Despite the plethora of genetic tools that have been developed for use in Streptococcus mutans, the S. mutans genetic system still lacks an effective gene induction system exhibiting low basal expression and strong inducibility. Consequently, we created two hybrid gene induction cassettes referred to as Xyl-S1 and Xyl-S2. Both Xyl-S cassettes are xylose inducible and controlled by the Bacillus megaterium xylose repressor. The Xyl-S cassettes each demonstrated >600-fold-increased reporter activity in the presence of 1.2% (wt/vol) xylose. However, the Xyl-S1 cassette yielded a much higher maximum level of gene expression, whereas the Xyl-S2 cassette exhibited much lower uninduced basal expression. The cassettes also performed similarly in Streptococcus sanguinis and Streptococcus gordonii, which suggests that they are likely to be useful in a variety of streptococci. We demonstrate how both Xyl-S cassettes are particularly useful for the study of toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules using both the previously characterized S. mutans mazEF TA module and a previously uncharacterized HicAB TA module in S. mutans. HicAB TA modules are widely distributed among bacteria and archaea, but little is known about their function. We show that HicA serves as the toxin component of the module, while HicB serves as the antitoxin. Our results suggest that, in contrast to that of typical TA modules, HicA toxicity in S. mutans is modest at best. The implications of these results for HicAB function are discussed.
Streptococcus mutans is generally recognized as a causative agent of human dental caries. The production of mutacins (bacteriocins) by S. mutans is considered to be an important factor in the colonization and establishment of S. mutans in the dental biofilm. Two types of mutacins have been characterized: the lantibiotics and the non-lantibiotics. The lantibiotics generally have a wider spectrum of activity than the non-lantibiotics, which make them attractive targets for development into new antimicrobial modalities. The non-lantibiotics are much more prevalent among strains of S. mutans and play a significant role in both community and population level interactions in the dental biofilm. These interactions are directly mediated through the ComCDE two-component system and the newly characterized LytTR Regulation Systems HdrRM and BrsRM. These systems coordinate natural competence development and mutacin production as a means to acquire transforming DNA either by killing closely related streptococcal species in the vicinity of S. mutans, or through an altruistic suicide mechanism among a subpopulation of competent cells within the S. mutans community. As more S. mutans strains are sequenced, it is anticipated that additional mutacins with novel functions will be discovered, which may yield further insights into the ecological role of mutacins within the oral biofilm.
mutacin; Streptococcus mutans; bacteriocin
We have constructed the first Escherichia coli-Veillonella shuttle vector based on an endogenous plasmid (pVJL1) isolated from a clinical Veillonella strain. A highly transformable Veillonella strain was also identified. Both the shuttle vector and the transformable strain should be valuable tools for future Veillonella genetic studies.
In the oral biofilm, the ‘mitis’ streptococci are among the first group of organisms to colonize the tooth surface. Their proliferation is thought to be an important factor required for antagonizing the growth of cariogenic species such as Streptococcus mutans. In this study, we used a three-species mixed culture to demonstrate that another ubiquitous early colonizing species, Veillonella parvula, can greatly affect the outcome of the competition between a pair of antagonists such as S. mutans and Streptococcus gordonii. Transcriptome analysis further revealed that S. mutans responds differentially to its friend (V. parvula) and foe (S. gordonii). In the mixed culture with S. gordonii, all but one of the S. mutans sugar uptake and metabolic genes were downregulated, while genes for alternative energy source utilization and H2O2 tolerance were upregulated, resulting in a slower but persistent growth. In contrast, when cultured with V. parvula, S. mutans grew equally well or better than in monoculture and exhibited relatively few changes within its transcriptome. When V. parvula was introduced into the mixed culture of S. mutans and S. gordonii, it rescued the growth inhibition of S. mutans. In this three-species environment, S. mutans increased the expression of genes required for the uptake and metabolism of minor sugars, while genes required for oxidative stress tolerance were downregulated. We conclude that the major factors that affect the competition between S. mutans and S. gordonii are carbohydrate utilization and H2O2 resistance. The presence of V. parvula in the tri-species culture mitigates these two major factors and allows S. mutans to proliferate, despite the presence of S. gordonii.
Certain oral streptococci produce H2O2 under aerobic growth conditions to inhibit competing species like Streptococcus mutans. Additionally, H2O2 production causes the release of extracellular DNA (eDNA). eDNA can participate in several important functions: biofilm formation and cell-cell aggregation are supported by eDNA, while eDNA can serve as a nutrient and as an antimicrobial agent by chelating essential cations. eDNA contains DNA fragments of a size that has the potential to transfer genomic information. By using Streptococcus gordonii as a model organism for streptococcal H2O2 production, H2O2-dependent eDNA release was further investigated. Under defined growth conditions, the eDNA release process was shown to be entirely dependent on H2O2. Chromosomal DNA damage seems to be the intrinsic signal for the release, although only actively growing cells were proficient eDNA donors. Interestingly, the process of eDNA production was found to be coupled with the induction of the S. gordonii natural competence system. Consequently, the production of H2O2 triggered the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes. These results suggest that H2O2 is potentially much more than a simple toxic metabolic by-product; rather, its production could serve as an important environmental signal that facilitates species evolution by transfer of genetic information and an increase in the mutation rate.
Insertion duplication mutagenesis and allelic replacement mutagenesis are among the most commonly utilized approaches for targeted mutagenesis in bacteria. However, both techniques are limited by a variety of factors that can complicate mutant phenotypic studies. To circumvent these limitations, multiple markerless mutagenesis techniques have been developed that utilize either temperature-sensitive plasmids or counterselectable suicide vectors containing both positive- and negative-selection markers. For many species, these techniques are not especially useful due to difficulties of cloning with Escherichia coli and/or a lack of functional negative-selection markers. In this study, we describe the development of a novel approach for the creation of markerless mutations. This system employs a cloning-independent methodology and should be easily adaptable to a wide array of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacterial species. The entire process of creating both the counterselection cassette and mutation constructs can be completed using overlapping PCR protocols, which allows extremely quick assembly and eliminates the requirement for either temperature-sensitive replicons or suicide vectors. As a proof of principle, we used Streptococcus mutans reference strain UA159 to create markerless in-frame deletions of 3 separate bacteriocin genes as well as triple mutants containing all 3 deletions. Using a panel of 5 separate wild-type S. mutans strains, we further demonstrated that the procedure is nearly 100% efficient at generating clones with the desired markerless mutation, which is a considerable improvement in yield compared to existing approaches.
The recent investigation of a gene cluster encoding for a hybrid PKS-NRPS metabolite in the oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans UA159 yielded evidence that this natural product might play an important role regulating a range of stress tolerance factors. We have now characterized the major compound generated from this gene cluster, mutanobactin A, and demonstrated that this secondary metabolite is also capable of influencing the yeast-mycelium transition of Candida albicans.
Recently, we described the function of an uncharacterized two-gene regulatory system consisting of a LytTR family transcription regulator and a putative membrane protein, which we referred to as the hdrRM operon. In this study, we determined that the HdrRM system controls the expression of an analogous uncharacterized regulatory system annotated as SMU.2080 and SMU.2081. Like hdrRM, the SMU.2080–2081 operon encodes a LytTR family transcription regulator and putative membrane protein, which we now refer to as BrsR and BrsM, respectively. Examination of the regulatory mechanism of the BrsRM system suggests that BrsM serves to antagonize the function of the transcription regulator BrsR. Further analyses of the regulatory role of BrsR determined that it functions as a transcription activator for a variety of bacteriocins and bacteriocin-related genes. In vitro electromobility shift assays confirmed that BrsR binds to the promoter regions of several bacteriocin genes and requires the presence of a LytTR family consensus direct repeat in order to stably bind DNA. In addition, we identified a novel regulatory scheme in which both the HdrRM and BrsRM systems coregulate each other and ultimately determine whether bacteriocin production will inhibit competitor organisms or result in lethality to the producer.
bacteriocin; LytTR; oral bacteria; Streptococcus; cell death
The oral biofilm community consists of >800 microbial species, among which Streptococcus mutans is considered a primary pathogen for dental caries. The genomic island TnSmu2 of S. mutans comprises >2% of the genome. In this study, we demonstrate that TnSmu2 harbors a gene cluster encoding nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS), polyketide synthases (PKS), and accessory proteins and regulators involved in nonribosomal peptide (NRP) and polyketide (PK) biosynthesis. Interestingly, the sequences of these genes and their genomic organizations and locations are highly divergent among different S. mutans strains, yet each TnSmu2 region encodes NRPS/PKS and accessory proteins. Mutagenesis of the structural genes and putative regulatory genes in strains UA159, UA140, and MT4653 resulted in colonies that were devoid of their yellow pigmentation (for strains UA140 and MT4653). In addition, these mutant strains also displayed retarded growth under aerobic conditions and in the presence of H2O2. High-performance liquid chromatography profiling of cell surface extracts identified unique peaks that were missing in the mutant strains, and partial characterization of the purified product from UA159 demonstrated that it is indeed a hybrid NRP/PK, as predicted. A genomic survey of 94 clinical S. mutans isolates suggests that the TnSmu2 gene cluster may be more prevalent than previously recognized.
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.
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 Streptococcus mutans hdrRM operon encodes a novel two-gene regulatory system induced by high cell density. Previous studies identified hdrM as the only known negative regulator of competence development in S. mutans. In the present study, we demonstrated that the HdrRM system bypasses the prototypical competence gene regulators ComC and ComDE in the transcriptional regulation of the competence-specific sigma factor comX and the late competence genes. Similarly, the HdrRM system can abrogate the requirement for ComE to produce the bacteriocin mutacin IV. To further probe the regulatory mechanism of hdrRM, we created an hdrR overexpression strain and showed that it could reproduce each of the hdrM competence and mutacin phenotypes, indicating that HdrM acts as a negative regulator of HdrR activity. Using a mutacin IV-luciferase reporter, we also demonstrated that the hdrRM system utilizes the same promoter elements recognized by ComE and thus appears to comprise a novel regulatory pathway parallel to ComCDE.
Streptococcus mutans is considered a primary pathogen for human dental caries. Its ability to produce a variety of peptide antibiotics called mutacins may play an important role in its invasion and establishment in the dental biofilm. S. mutans strain UA140 produces two types of mutacins, the lantibiotic mutacin I and the non-lantibitoc mutacin IV. In a previous study, we constructed a random insertional-mutation library to screen for genes involved in regulating mutacin I production, and found 25 genes/operons that have a positive effect on mutacin I production. In this study, we continued our previous work to identify genes that are negatively involved in mutacin I production. By using a high phosphate BHI plate that inhibited mutacin I production of the wild-type, we isolated 77 clones that consistently produced mutacin I under repressive conditions. From the 34 clones that we were able to obtain a sequence, 17 unique genes were identified. These genes encompass a variety of functional groups including the central metabolism, surface binding, sugar transport, and unknown functions. Some of the 17 mutations were further characterized and shown to increase mutacin gene expression during growth when it is usually not expressed in the wild-type. These results further demonstrate an intimate and intricate connection between mutacin production and the overall cellular homeostasis.
Previous work has shown that irvR is required for the proper regulation of genetic competence and dextran-dependent aggregation due to its ability to repress the transcription regulator irvA. In this study, we determined the mechanism used to relieve the repression of irvA. We demonstrate that IrvR is a “LexA-like” protein with four conserved amino acid residues likely required for IrvR autocleavage activity. Furthermore, recombinant IrvR protein purified from Escherichia coli was competent to undergo autocleavage in vitro. Using several truncated IrvR constructs, we show that the amino acids adjacent to the autocleavage site are essential for relieving irvA repression and engaging the irvA-dependent regulatory pathway primarily through the ClpXP and ClpCP proteases. By extending the IrvR C terminus with an epitope derived from the autocleavage site, we were also able to create a constitutive Clp-dependent degradation of the full-length IrvR protein. This suggests that the derepression of irvA occurs through a two-step mechanism involving the initial autocleavage of IrvR and exposure of a proteolytic degradation sequence followed by Clp-dependent degradation of the IrvR DNA binding domain. Thus, irvA derepression is highly analogous to the genetic switch mechanism used to regulate lysogeny in bacteriophages.
The oral microbial flora comprises one of the most diverse human-associated biofilms. Its development is heavily influenced by oral streptococci, which are considered the main group of early colonizers. Their initial attachment determines the composition of later colonizers in the oral biofilm and impacts the health or disease status of the host. Thus, the role of streptococci in the development of oral diseases is best described in the context of bacterial ecology, which itself is further influenced by interactions with host epithelial cells, the immune system, and salivary components. The tractability of the oral biofilm makes it an excellent model system for studies of complex, biofilm-associated polymicrobial diseases. Using this system, numerous cooperative and antagonistic bacterial interactions have been demonstrated to occur within the community and with the host. In this review, several recent identified interactions are presented.
Fusobacterium nucleatum is a gram-negative oral bacterial species associated with periodontal disease progression. This species is perhaps best known for its ability to adhere to a vast array of other bacteria and eukaryotic cells. Numerous studies of F. nucleatum have examined various coaggregation partners and inhibitors, but it is largely unknown whether these interactions induce a particular genetic response. We tested coaggregation between F. nucleatum ATCC strain 25586 and various species of Streptococcus in the presence of a semidefined growth medium containing saliva. We found that this condition could support efficient coaggregation but, surprisingly, also stimulated a similar degree of autoaggregation. We further characterized the autoaggregation response, since few reports have examined this in F. nucleatum. After screening several common coaggregation inhibitors, we identified l-lysine as a competitive inhibitor of autoaggregation. We performed a microarray analysis of the planktonic versus autoaggregated cells and found nearly 100 genes that were affected after only about 60 min of aggregation. We tested a subset of these genes via real-time reverse transcription-PCR and confirmed the validity of the microarray results. Some of these genes were also found to be inducible in cell pellets created by centrifugation. Based upon these data, it appears that autoaggregation activates a genetic program that may be utilized for growth in a high cell density environment, such as the oral biofilm.
Dextran-dependent aggregation (DDAG) of Streptococcus mutans is an in vitro phenomenon that is believed to represent a property of the organism that is beneficial for sucrose-dependent biofilm development. GbpC, a cell surface glucan-binding protein, is responsible for DDAG in S. mutans when cultured under defined stressful conditions. Recent reports have described a putative transcriptional regulator gene, irvA, located just upstream of gbpC, that is normally repressed by the product of an adjacent gene, irvR. When repression of irvA is relieved, there is a resulting increase in the expression of GbpC and decreases in competence and synthesis of the antibiotic mutacin I. This study examined the role of irvA in DDAG and biofilm formation by engineering strains that overexpressed irvA (IrvA+) on an extrachromosomal plasmid. The IrvA+ strain displayed large aggregation particles that did not require stressful growth conditions. A novel finding was that overexpression of irvA in a gbpC mutant background retained a measure of DDAG, albeit very small aggregation particles. Biofilms formed by the IrvA+ strain in the parental background possessed larger-than-normal microcolonies. In a gbpC mutant background, the overexpression of irvA reversed the fragile biofilm phenotype normally associated with loss of GbpC. Real-time PCR and Northern blot analyses found that expression of gbpC did not change significantly in the IrvA+ strain but expression of spaP, encoding the major surface adhesin P1, increased significantly. Inactivation of spaP eliminated the small-particle DDAG. The results suggest that IrvA promotes DDAG not only by GbpC, but also via an increase in P1.
Previous studies identified irvA as a normally repressed but highly inducible transcription regulator capable of repressing mutacin I gene expression in Streptococcus mutans. In this study, we aimed to identify and characterize the regulator(s) responsible for repressing the expression of irvA. An uncharacterized open reading frame (SMU.1398) located immediately adjacent to irvA and annotated as a putative transcription repressor was identified as a likely candidate. The results of mutation studies confirmed that the expression of irvA was greatly increased in the SMU.1398 background. Mutation of SMU.1398 (“irvR”) abolished genetic competence and reduced the expression of the late competence genes/operons comEA, comY, and dprA without affecting the expression of the known competence regulators comC, comED, or comX. In addition, irvR was found to be a potent negative regulator of dextran-dependent aggregation (DDAG) and gbpC expression. Each of these irvR mutant phenotypes could be rescued with a double mutation of irvA or complemented by introducing a wild-type copy of irvR on a shuttle vector. These data indicate that the repression of irvA is critically dependent upon irvR and that irvA repression is essential for the development of genetic competence and the proper control of DDAG in S. mutans.
There is increasing evidence to suggest an immunomodulation function both within the intestines and systemically upon consuming probiotic species. We recently isolated a novel LAB, Lactobacillus caseiZhang (LcZhang) from koumiss. LcZhang exhibited favorable probiotic properties, such as acid resistance, bile resistance, gastrointestinal (GI) colonization ability, etc. In order to examine the immunomodulatory qualities of LcZhang, we administered LcZhang to healthy mice with varying doses of either live or heat-killed LcZhang and measured various parameters of the host immune response.
The study was performed in four separate experiments via oral administration of live and heat-killed LcZhang to BALB/c mice for several consecutive days. We investigated the immunomodulating capacity of LcZhang in vivo by analyzing the profile of cytokines, T cell subpopulations, and immunoglobulin concentrations induced in blood serum and intestinal fluid in BALB/c mice. Only live bacteria elicited a wide range of immune responses, which include the increased production of interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and depression of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) levels. In addition, interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-2 receptor gene transcription increased significantly, but the proportion of T cell subsets appeared to be unaffected. We also observed that LcZhang was capable of inducing gut mucosal responses by enhancing the production of secretory Immunoglobulin A (sIgA) as well influencing the systemic immunity via the cytokines released to the circulating blood.
The present work shows that the dose-dependent administration of LcZhang is capable of influencing immune responses, implying that it may be a valuable strain for probiotic use in humans.
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.
It is important to ensure DNA availability when bacterial cells develop competence. Previous studies in Streptococcus pneumoniae demonstrated that the competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) induced autolysin production and cell lysis of its own non-competent cells, suggesting a possible active mechanism to secure a homologous DNA pool for uptake and recombination. In this study, we found that in Streptococcus mutans CSP induced coordinated expression of competence and mutacin production genes. This mutacin (mutacin IV) is a non-lantibiotic bacteriocin which kills closely related Streptococcal species such as S. gordonii. In mixed cultures of S. mutans and S. gordonii harbouring a shuttle plasmid, plasmid DNA transfer from S. gordonii to S. mutans was observed in a CSP and mutacin IV-dependent manner. Further analysis demonstrated an increased DNA release from S. gordonii upon addition of the partially purified mutacin IV extract. On the basis of these findings, we propose that Streptococcus mutans, which resides in a multispecies oral bio-film, may utilize the competence-induced bacteriocin production to acquire transforming DNA from other species living in the same ecological niche. This hypothesis is also consistent with a well-known phenomenon that a large genomic diversity exists among different S. mutans strains. This diversity may have resulted from extensive horizontal gene transfer.
The human mucosal surface is colonized by the indigenous microflora, which normally maintains an ecological balance among different species. Certain environmental or biological factors, however, may trigger disruption of this balance, leading to microbial diseases. In this study, we used two oral bacterial species, Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sanguinis (formerly S. sanguis), as a model to probe the possible mechanisms of competition/coexistence between different species which occupy the same ecological niche. We show that the two species engage in a multitude of antagonistic interactions temporally and spatially; occupation of a niche by one species precludes colonization by the other, while simultaneous colonization by both species results in coexistence. Environmental conditions, such as cell density, nutritional availability, and pH, play important roles in determining the outcome of these interactions. Genetic and biochemical analyses reveal that these interspecies interactions are possibly mediated through a well-regulated production of chemicals, such as bacteriocins (produced by S. mutans) and hydrogen peroxide (produced by S. sanguinis). Consistent with the phenotypic characteristics, production of bacteriocins and H2O2 are regulated by environmental conditions, as well as by juxtaposition of the two species. These sophisticated interspecies interactions could play an essential part in balancing competition/coexistence within multispecies microbial communities.