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1.  In vitro Manganese-Dependent Cross-Talk between Streptococcus mutans VicK and GcrR: Implications for Overlapping Stress Response Pathways 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e115975.
Streptococcus mutans, a major acidogenic component of the dental plaque biofilm, has a key role in caries etiology. Previously, we demonstrated that the VicRK two-component signal transduction system modulates biofilm formation, oxidative stress and acid tolerance responses in S. mutans. Using in vitro phosphorylation assays, here we demonstrate for the first time, that in addition to activating its cognate response regulator protein, the sensor kinase, VicK can transphosphorylate a non-cognate stress regulatory response regulator, GcrR, in the presence of manganese. Manganese is an important micronutrient that has been previously correlated with caries incidence, and which serves as an effector of SloR-mediated metalloregulation in S. mutans. Our findings supporting regulatory effects of manganese on the VicRK, GcrR and SloR, and the cross-regulatory networks formed by these components are more complex than previously appreciated. Using DNaseI footprinting we observed overlapping DNA binding specificities for VicR and GcrR in native promoters, consistent with these proteins being part of the same transcriptional regulon. Our results also support a role for SloR as a positive regulator of the vicRK two component signaling system, since its transcription was drastically reduced in a SloR-deficient mutant. These findings demonstrate the regulatory complexities observed with the S. mutans manganese-dependent response, which involves cross-talk between non-cognate signal transduction systems (VicRK and GcrR) to modulate stress response pathways.
PMCID: PMC4275253  PMID: 25536343
2.  A Biochemical Characterization of the DNA Binding Activity of the Response Regulator VicR from Streptococcus mutans 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108027.
Two-component systems (TCSs) are ubiquitous among bacteria and are among the most elegant and effective sensing systems in nature. They allow for efficient adaptive responses to rapidly changing environmental conditions. In this study, we investigated the biochemical characteristics of the Streptococcus mutans protein VicR, an essential response regulator that is part of the VicRK TCS. We dissected the DNA binding requirements of the recognition sequences for VicR in its phosphorylated and unphosphorylated forms. In doing so, we were able to make predictions for the expansion of the VicR regulon within S. mutans. With the ever increasing number of bacteria that are rapidly becoming resistant to even the antibiotics of last resort, TCSs such as the VicRK provide promising targets for a new class of antimicrobials.
PMCID: PMC4168254  PMID: 25229632
3.  CinA is regulated via ComX to modulate genetic transformation and cell viability in Streptococcus mutans 
Fems Microbiology Letters  2012;331(1):44-52.
The Streptococcus mutans ComX-regulon encompasses >200 mostly uncharacterized genes, including cinA. Here we report that cinA is regulated by ComX in the presence of the competence stimulating peptide (CSP), wherein loss of CinA (strain SmuCinA) results in reduced transformability with or without added CSP by 74- and 15-fold, respectively (p<0.003). In CSP-supplemented cultures, a 2-fold increase in cell viability was noted for SmuCinA relative to UA159 (p<0.002), suggesting CinA’s involvement in the CSP-modulated cell killing response. Relative to UA159, loss of CinA also rendered the mutant hypersensitive to killing by methyl methanesulfonate (MMS), which impairs homologous recombination. Despite our use of a non-polar mutagenesis strategy to knockout cinA, which is the first gene of the multicistronic operon harboring cinA, we noted a drastic reduction in recA expression. By using a CinA-complemented mutant, we were able to partially, but not completely restore all phenotypes to UA159 levels. Complementation results suggested that although cinA participates in modulating competence, viability and MMS tolerance, genes downstream of the cinA transcript may also regulate these phenotypes, a finding that warrants further examination. This is the first report that describes a role for S. mutans’ CinA in contending with DNA damage, genetic transformation and cell survival.
PMCID: PMC3343223  PMID: 22428842
Streptococcus mutans; cinA; comX; CSP; genetic competence; cell death
4.  Structural and Functional Analysis of the N-terminal Domain of the Streptococcus gordonii Adhesin Sgo0707 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63768.
The commensal Streptococcus gordonii expresses numerous surface adhesins with which it interacts with other microorganisms, host cells and salivary proteins to initiate dental plaque formation. However, this Gram-positive bacterium can also spread to non-oral sites such as the heart valves and cause infective endocarditis. One of its surface adhesins, Sgo0707, is a large protein composed of a non-repetitive N-terminal region followed by several C-terminal repeat domains and a cell wall sorting motif. Here we present the crystal structure of the Sgo0707 N-terminal domains, refined to 2.1 Å resolution. The model consists of two domains, N1 and N2. The largest domain, N1, comprises a putative binding cleft with a single cysteine located in its centre and exhibits an unexpected structural similarity to the variable domains of the streptococcal Antigen I/II adhesins. The N2-domain has an IgG-like fold commonly found among Gram-positive surface adhesins. Binding studies performed on S. gordonii wild-type and a Sgo0707 deficient mutant show that the Sgo0707 adhesin is involved in binding to type-1 collagen and to oral keratinocytes.
PMCID: PMC3656908  PMID: 23691093
5.  TcyR regulates L-cystine uptake via the TcyABC transporter in Streptococcus mutans 
Fems Microbiology Letters  2012;328(2):114-121.
Streptococcus mutans, a primary dental pathogen, has a remarkable capacity to scavenge nutrients from the oral biofilm for its survival. Cystine is an amino acid dimer formed by the oxidation of two cysteine residues that is required for optimal growth, whereas S. mutans modulates l-cystine uptake via two recently identified transporters designated TcyABC and TcyDEFGH, which have not been fully characterized. Using a non-polar tcyABC-deficient mutant (SmTcyABC), here we report that L-cystine uptake is drastically diminished in the mutant, whereas its ability to grow is severely impaired under l-cystine starvation conditions, relative to wild type. A substrate competition assay showed that l-cystine uptake by the TcyABC transporter was strongly inhibited by dl-cystathionine and l-djenkolic acid and moderately inhibited by S-methyl-l-cysteine and l-cysteine. Using gene expression analysis, we observed that the tcyABC operon was up-regulated under cystine starvation. TcyABC has been shown to be positively regulated by the LysR-type transcriptional regulator CysR. We identified another LysR-type transcriptional regulator that negatively regulates TcyABC with homology to the B. subtilis YtlI regulator, which we termed TcyR. Our study enhances the understanding of l-cystine uptake in S. mutans which allows survival and persistence of this pathogen in the oral biofilm.
PMCID: PMC3288405  PMID: 22212096
Cystine; cysteine; transport; TcyABC; Streptococcus mutans
6.  Mechanistic Insights Revealed by the Crystal Structure of a Histidine Kinase with Signal Transducer and Sensor Domains 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(2):e1001493.
A crystal structure reveals an elegant mechanistic switch whereby helical bending and catalytic domain rotation allow self-activation of a histidine kinase during a bacterial stress response.
Two-component systems (TCSs) are important for the adaptation and survival of bacteria and fungi under stress conditions. A TCS is often composed of a membrane-bound sensor histidine kinase (SK) and a response regulator (RR), which are relayed through sequential phosphorylation steps. However, the mechanism for how an SK is switched on in response to environmental stimuli remains obscure. Here, we report the crystal structure of a complete cytoplasmic portion of an SK, VicK from Streptococcus mutans. The overall structure of VicK is a long-rod dimer that anchors four connected domains: HAMP, Per-ARNT-SIM (PAS), DHp, and catalytic and ATP binding domain (CA). The HAMP, a signal transducer, and the PAS domain, major sensor, adopt canonical folds with dyad symmetry. In contrast, the dimer of the DHp and CA domains is asymmetric because of different helical bends in the DHp domain and spatial positions of the CA domains. Moreover, a conserved proline, which is adjacent to the phosphoryl acceptor histidine, contributes to helical bending, which is essential for the autokinase and phosphatase activities. Together, the elegant architecture of VicK with a signal transducer and sensor domain suggests a model where DHp helical bending and a CA swing movement are likely coordinated for autokinase activation.
Author Summary
Two-component signal transduction systems (TCSs) are promising targets for new antimicrobial research because they help bacteria and fungi adapt and survive. One of the main components of TCSs is a sensor histidine kinase (SK), which relays extracellular signals to intracellular pathways. Despite intensive research, a full-length structure of an SK has yet to be solved. In this study, we report the first crystal structure of the complete cytoplasmic region of VicK, an important SK in the tooth decay pathogen S. mutans. VicK is composed of several domains (HAMP, PAS, DHp, and catalytic and ATP binding domain [CA]) in addition to a short transmembrane domain. We find that the dimeric VicK protein has an elegant rod-shaped structure with the domains linearly connected like beads on a string. The structure suggests that VicK kinase activates itself by helical bending of the DHp domain and coordinated swinging around of the catalytic CA domain to engage with the target histidine. Structure-based mutagenesis experiments also helped us to identify key residues that are required for VicK's opposing phosphatase activity. Our studies of the multi-modular VicK protein suggest a sequential kinase activation model that may involve helical bending of the DHp domain and repositioning of the CA domains.
PMCID: PMC3582566  PMID: 23468592
7.  Characterization of DNA Binding Sites of the ComE Response Regulator from Streptococcus mutans▿† 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(14):3642-3652.
In Streptococcus mutans, both competence and bacteriocin production are controlled by ComC and the ComED two-component signal transduction system. Recent studies of S. mutans suggested that purified ComE binds to two 11-bp direct repeats in the nlmC-comC promoter region, where ComE activates nlmC and represses comC. In this work, quantitative binding studies and DNase I footprinting analysis were performed to calculate the equilibrium dissociation constant and further characterize the binding site of ComE. We found that ComE protects sequences inclusive of both direct repeats, has an equilibrium dissociation constant in the nanomolar range, and binds to these two direct repeats cooperatively. Furthermore, similar direct repeats were found upstream of cslAB, comED, comX, ftf, vicRKX, gtfD, gtfB, gtfC, and gbpB. Quantitative binding studies were performed on each of these sequences and showed that only cslAB has a similar specificity and high affinity for ComE as that seen with the upstream region of comC. A mutational analysis of the binding sequences showed that ComE does not require both repeats to bind DNA with high affinity, suggesting that single site sequences in the genome may be targets for ComE-mediated regulation. Based on the mutational analysis and DNase I footprinting analysis, we propose a consensus ComE binding site, TCBTAAAYSGT.
PMCID: PMC3133340  PMID: 21602345
8.  Bacterial biogeography of the human digestive tract 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:170.
We present bacterial biogeography as sampled from the human gastrointestinal tract of four healthy subjects. This study generated >32 million paired-end sequences of bacterial 16S rRNA genes (V3 region) representing >95,000 unique operational taxonomic units (OTUs; 97% similarity clusters), with >99% Good's coverage for all samples. The highest OTU richness and phylogenetic diversity was found in the mouth samples. The microbial communities of multiple biopsy sites within the colon were highly similar within individuals and largely distinct from those in stool. Within an individual, OTU overlap among broad site definitions (mouth, stomach/duodenum, colon and stool) ranged from 32–110 OTUs, 25 of which were common to all individuals and included OTUs affiliated with Faecalibacterium prasnitzii and the TM7 phylum. This first comprehensive characterization of the abundant and rare microflora found along the healthy human digestive tract represents essential groundwork to investigate further how the human microbiome relates to health and disease.
PMCID: PMC3240969  PMID: 22355685
9.  Characterization of a Glutamate Transporter Operon, glnQHMP, in Streptococcus mutans and Its Role in Acid Tolerance▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;192(4):984-993.
Glutamate contributes to the acid tolerance response (ATR) of many Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, but its role in the ATR of the oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans is unknown. This study describes the discovery and characterization of a glutamate transporter operon designated glnQHMP (Smu.1519 to Smu.1522) and investigates its potential role in acid tolerance. Deletion of glnQHMP resulted in a 95% reduction in transport of radiolabeled glutamate compared to the wild-type UA159 strain. The addition of glutamate to metabolizing UA159 cells resulted in an increased production of acidic end products, whereas the glnQHMP mutant produced less lactic acid than UA159, suggesting a link between glutamate metabolism and acid production and possible acid tolerance. To investigate this possibility, we conducted a microarray analysis with glutamate and under pH 5.5 and pH 7.5 conditions which showed that expression of the glnQHMP operon was downregulated by both glutamate and mild acid. We also measured the growth kinetics of UA159 and its glnQHMP-negative derivative at pH 5.5 and found that the mutant doubled at a much slower rate than the parent strain but survived at pH 3.5 significantly better than the wild type. Taken together, these findings support the involvement of the glutamate transporter operon glnQHMP in the acid tolerance response in S. mutans.
PMCID: PMC2812961  PMID: 20023025

Results 1-9 (9)