Bidirectional signaling in the competence regulatory pathway of Streptococcus mutans.
ABSTRACT: Streptococcus mutans expresses comX (also known as sigX), which encodes a sigma factor that is required for development of genetic competence, in response to the peptide signals XIP and CSP and environmental factors. XIP (sigX inducing peptide) is derived from ComS and activates comX unimodally in chemically defined media via the ComRS system. CSP (competence stimulating peptide) activates comX bimodally in peptide-rich media through the ComDE two-component system. However, CSP-ComDE activation of comX is indirect and involves ComRS. Therefore, the bimodality of CSP-dependent activation of comX may arise from either ComRS or ComDE. Here we study, at the single-cell level, how genes in the CSP signaling pathway respond to CSP, XIP and media. Our data indicate that activation of comX stimulates expression of comE. In addition, activation of comE requires intact comR and comS genes. Therefore, not only does CSP-ComDE stimulate the ComRS pathway to activate comX expression, but ComRS activation of comX also stimulates expression of the CSP-ComDE pathway and its regulon. The results demonstrate the mutual interconnection of the signaling pathways that control bacteriocin expression (ComDE) and genetic competence (ComRS), both of which are linked to lytic and virulence behaviors.
Project description:The development of competence by the dental caries pathogen Streptococcus mutans is mediated primarily through the alternative sigma factor ComX (SigX), which is under the control of multiple regulatory systems and activates the expression of genes involved in DNA uptake and recombination. Here we report that the induction of competence and competence gene expression by XIP (sigX-inducing peptide) and CSP (competence-stimulating peptide) is dependent on the growth phase and that environmental pH has a potent effect on the responses to XIP. A dramatic decline in comX and comS expression was observed in mid- and late-exponential-phase cells. XIP-mediated competence development and responses to XIP were optimal around a neutral pH, although mid-exponential-phase cells remained refractory to XIP treatment, and acidified late-exponential-phase cultures were resistant to killing by high concentrations of XIP. Changes in the expression of the genes for the oligopeptide permease (opp), which appears to be responsible for the internalization of XIP, could not entirely account for the behaviors observed. Interestingly, comS and comX expression was highly induced in response to endogenously overproduced XIP or ComS in mid-exponential-phase cells. In contrast to the effects of pH on XIP, competence induction and responses to CSP in complex medium were not affected by pH, although a decreased response to CSP in cells that had exited early-exponential phase was observed. Collectively, these results indicate that competence development may be highly sensitive to microenvironments within oral biofilms and that XIP and CSP signaling in biofilms could be spatially and temporally heterogeneous.
Project description:In Streptococcus mutans, the alternative sigma factor ComX controls entry into genetic competence. Competence stimulating peptide (CSP) induces bimodal expression of comX, with only a fraction of the population becoming transformable. Curiously, the bimodality of comX is affected by peptides in the growth medium and by carbohydrate source. CSP elicits bimodal expression of comX in media rich in small peptides, but CSP elicits no response in defined media lacking small peptides. In addition, growth on certain sugars increases the proportion of the population that activates comX in response to CSP. By investigating the connection between media and comX bimodality, we find evidence for two mechanisms that modulate transcriptional positive feedback in the ComRS system, where comX bimodality originates. We find that the endopeptidase PepO suppresses the ComRS feedback loop, most likely by degrading the XIP/ComS feedback signal. Deletion of pepO eliminates comX bimodality, leading to a unimodal comX response to CSP in both defined and complex media. We also find that CSP stimulates the ComRS feedback system by upregulating comR in a carbohydrate source-dependent fashion. Our data provide mechanistic insight into how S. mutans regulates bimodality and explain the puzzle of growth medium effects on competence induction by CSP.
Project description:Streptococcus mutans displays complex regulation of natural genetic competence. Competence development in S. mutans is controlled by a peptide derived from ComS (XIP); which along with the cytosolic regulator ComR controls the expression of the alternative sigma factor comX, the master regulator of competence development. Recently, a gene embedded within the coding region of comX was discovered and designated xrpA (comX regulatory peptide A). XrpA was found to be an antagonist of ComX, but the mechanism was not established. In this study, we reveal through both genomic and proteomic techniques that XrpA is the first described negative regulator of ComRS systems in streptococci. Transcriptomic and promoter activity assays in the ?xrpA strain revealed an up-regulation of genes controlled by both the ComR- and ComX-regulons. An in vivo protein crosslinking and in vitro fluorescent polarization assays confirmed that the N-terminal region of XrpA were found to be sufficient in inhibiting ComR-XIP complex binding to ECom-box located within the comX promoter. This inhibitory activity was sufficient for decreases in PcomX activity, transformability and ComX accumulation. XrpA serving as a modulator of ComRS activity ultimately results in changes to subpopulation behaviors and cell fate during competence activation.
Project description:Genetic competence in Streptococcus mutans is a transient state that is regulated in response to multiple environmental inputs. These include extracellular pH and the concentrations of two secreted peptides, designated CSP (competence-stimulating peptide) and XIP (comX-inducing peptide). The role of environmental cues in regulating competence can be difficult to disentangle from the effects of the organism's physiological state and its chemical modification of its environment. We used microfluidics to control the extracellular environment and study the activation of the key competence gene comX. We find that the comX promoter (PcomX) responds to XIP or CSP only when the extracellular pH lies within a narrow window, about 1 pH unit wide, near pH 7. Within this pH range, CSP elicits a strong PcomX response from a subpopulation of cells, whereas outside this range the proportion of cells expressing comX declines sharply. Likewise, PcomX is most sensitive to XIP only within a narrow pH window. While previous work suggested that comX may become refractory to CSP or XIP stimulus as cells exit early exponential phase, our microfluidic data show that extracellular pH dominates in determining sensitivity to XIP and CSP. The data are most consistent with an effect of pH on the ComR/ComS system, which has direct control over transcription of comX in S. mutans.
Project description:Streptococcus mutans regulates genetic competence through a complex network that receives inputs from a number of environmental stimuli, including two signalling peptides designated as CSP and XIP. The response of the downstream competence genes to these inputs shows evidence of stochasticity and bistability and has been difficult to interpret. We have used microfluidic, single-cell methods to study how combinations of extracellular signals shape the response of comX, an alternative sigma factor governing expression of the late competence genes. We find that the composition of the medium determines which extracellular signal (XIP or CSP) can elicit a response from comX and whether that response is unimodal or bimodal across a population of cells. In a chemically defined medium, exogenous CSP does not induce comX, whereas exogenous XIP elicits a comX response from all cells. In complex medium, exogenous XIP does not induce comX, whereas CSP elicits a bimodal comX response from the population. Interestingly, bimodal behaviour required an intact copy of comS, which encodes the precursor of XIP. The comS-dependent capability for both unimodal and bimodal response suggests that a constituent - most likely peptides - of complex medium interacts with a positive feedback loop in the competence regulatory network.
Project description:<h4>Unlabelled</h4>The capacity to internalize and catabolize carbohydrates is essential for dental caries pathogens to persist and cause disease. The expression of many virulence-related attributes by Streptococcus mutans, an organism strongly associated with human dental caries, is influenced by the peptide signaling pathways that control genetic competence. Here, we demonstrate a relationship between the efficiency of competence signaling and carbohydrate source. A significant increase in the activity of the promoters for comX, comS, and comYA after exposure to competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) was observed in cells growing on fructose, maltose, sucrose, or trehalose as the primary carbohydrate source, compared to cells growing on glucose. However, only cells grown in the presence of trehalose or sucrose displayed a significant increase in transformation frequency. Notably, even low concentrations of these carbohydrates in the presence of excess glucose could enhance the expression of comX, encoding a sigma factor needed for competence, and the effects on competence were dependent on the cognate sugar:phosphotransferase permease for each carbohydrate. Using green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter fusions, we observed that growth in fructose or trehalose resulted in a greater proportion of the population activating expression of comX and comS, encoding the precursor of comX-inducing peptide (XIP), after addition of CSP, than growth in glucose. Thus, the source of carbohydrate significantly impacts the stochastic behaviors that regulate subpopulation responses to CSP, which can induce competence in S. mutans<h4>Importance</h4>The signaling pathways that regulate development of genetic competence in Streptococcus mutans are intimately intertwined with the pathogenic potential of the organism, impacting biofilm formation, stress tolerance, and expression of known virulence determinants. Induction of the gene for the master regulator of competence, ComX, by competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) occurs in a subpopulation of cells. Here, we show that certain carbohydrates that are common in the human diet enhance the ability of CSP to activate transcription of comX and that a subset of these carbohydrates stimulates progression to the competent state. The cognate sugar:phosphotransferase permeases for each sugar are needed for these effects. Interestingly, single-cell analysis shows that the carbohydrates that increase com gene expression do so by enhancing the proportion of cells that respond to CSP. A mathematical model is developed to explain how carbohydrates modulate bistable behavior in the system via the ComRS pathway and ComX stability.
Project description:In Streptococcus mutans, an oral colonizer associated with dental caries, development of competence for natural genetic transformation is triggered by either of two types of peptide pheromones, competence-stimulating peptides (CSPs) (18 amino acids [aa]) or SigX-inducing peptides (XIPs) (7 aa). Competence induced by CSP is a late response to the pheromone that requires the response regulator ComE and the XIP-encoding gene comS. XIP binds to ComR to allow expression of the alternative sigma factor SigX and the effector genes it controls. While these regulatory links are established, the precise set of effectors controlled by each regulator is poorly defined. To improve the definition of all three regulons, we used a high-resolution tiling array to map global changes in gene expression in the early and late phases of the CSP response. The early phase of the CSP response was limited to increased gene expression at four loci associated with bacteriocin production and immunity. In the late phase, upregulated regions expanded to a total of 29 loci, including comS and genes required for DNA uptake and recombination. The results indicate that the entire late response to CSP depends on the expression of comS and that the immediate transcriptional response to CSP, mediated by ComE, is restricted to just four bacteriocin-related loci. Comparison of the new data with published transcriptome data permitted the identification of all of the operons in each regulon: 4 for ComE, 2 for ComR, and 21 for SigX. Finally, a core set of 27 panstreptococcal competence genes was identified within the SigX regulon by comparison of transcriptome data from diverse streptococcal species. IMPORTANCES. mutans has the hard surfaces of the oral cavity as its natural habitat, where it depends on its ability to form biofilms in order to survive. The comprehensive identification of S. mutans regulons activated in response to peptide pheromones provides an important basis for understanding how S. mutans can transition from individual to social behavior. Our study placed 27 of the 29 transcripts activated during competence within three major regulons and revealed a core set of 27 panstreptococcal competence-activated genes within the SigX regulon.
Project description:Natural transformation, or competence, is an ability inherent to bacteria for the uptake of extracellular DNA. This process is central to bacterial evolution and allows for the rapid acquirement of new traits, such as antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microorganisms. For the Gram-positive bacteria genus Streptococcus, genes required for competence are under the regulation of quorum sensing (QS) mediated by peptide pheromones. One such system, ComRS, consists of a peptide (ComS) that is processed (XIP), secreted, and later imported into the cytoplasm, where it binds and activates the transcription factor ComR. ComR then engages in a positive feedback loop for the expression of ComS and the alternative sigma-factor SigX. Although ComRS are present in the majority of Streptococcus species, the sequence of both ComS/XIP and ComR diverge significantly, suggesting a mechanism for species-specific communication. To study possible cross-talk between streptococcal species in the regulation of competence, and to explore in detail the molecular interaction between ComR and XIP we undertook an interdisciplinary approach. We developed a 'test-bed' assay to measure the activity of different ComR proteins in response to cognate and heterologous XIP peptides in vivo, revealing distinct ComR classes of strict, intermediate, and promiscuous specificity among species. We then solved an X-ray crystal structure of ComR from S. suis to further understand the interaction with XIP and to search for structural features in ComR proteins that may explain XIP recognition. Using the structure as a guide, we probed the apo conformation of the XIP-binding pocket by site-directed mutagenesis, both in test-bed cultures and biochemically in vitro. In alignments with ComR proteins from other species, we find that the pocket is lined by a variable and a conserved face, where residues of the conserved face contribute to ligand binding and the variable face discriminate among XIP peptides. Together, our results not only provide a model for XIP recognition and specificity, but also allow for the prediction of novel XIP peptides that induce ComR activity.
Project description:Two small quorum sensing (QS) peptides regulate competence in S. mutans in a cell density dependent manner: XIP (sigX inducing peptide) and CSP (competence stimulating peptide). Depending on the environmental conditions isogenic S. mutans cells can split into a competent and non-competent subpopulation. The origin of this population heterogeneity has not been experimentally determined and it is unknown how the two QS systems are connected. We developed a toolbox of single and dual fluorescent reporter strains and systematically knocked out key genes of the competence signaling cascade in the reporter strain backgrounds. By following signal propagation on the single cell level we discovered that the master regulator of competence, the alternative sigma factor SigX, directly controls expression of the response regulator for bacteriocin synthesis ComE. Consequently, a SigX binding motif (cin-box) was identified in the promoter region of comE. Overexpressing the genetic components involved in competence development demonstrated that ComRS represents the origin of bimodality and determines the modality of the downstream regulators SigX and ComE. Moreover these analysis showed that there is no direct regulatory link between the two QS signaling cascades. Competence is induced through a hierarchical XIP signaling cascade, which has no regulatory input from the CSP cascade. CSP exclusively regulates bacteriocin synthesis. We suggest renaming it mutacin inducing peptide (MIP). Finally, using phosphomimetic comE mutants we show that unimodal bacteriocin production is controlled posttranslationally, thus solving the puzzling observation that in complex media competence is observed in a subpopulation only, while at the same time all cells produce bacteriocins. The control of both bacteriocin synthesis and competence through the alternative sigma-factor SigX suggests that S. mutans increases its genetic repertoire via QS controlled predation on neighboring species in its natural habitat.
Project description:Many bacterial species use the MecA/ClpCP proteolytic system to block entry into genetic competence. In Streptococcus mutans, MecA/ClpCP degrades ComX (also called SigX), an alternative sigma factor for the comY operon and other late competence genes. Although the mechanism of MecA/ClpCP has been studied in multiple Streptococcus species, its role within noisy competence pathways is poorly understood. S. mutans competence can be triggered by two different peptides, CSP and XIP, but it is not known whether MecA/ClpCP acts similarly for both stimuli, how it affects competence heterogeneity, and how its regulation is overcome. We have studied the effect of MecA/ClpCP on the activation of comY in individual S. mutans cells. Our data show that MecA/ClpCP is active under both XIP and CSP stimulation, that it provides threshold control of comY, and that it adds noise in comY expression. Our data agree quantitatively with a model in which MecA/ClpCP prevents adventitious entry into competence by sequestering or intercepting low levels of ComX. Competence is permitted when ComX levels exceed a threshold, but cell-to-cell heterogeneity in MecA levels creates variability in that threshold. Therefore, MecA/ClpCP provides a stochastic switch, located downstream of the already noisy comX, that enhances phenotypic diversity.