Threshold regulation and stochasticity from the MecA/ClpCP proteolytic system in Streptococcus mutans competence.
ABSTRACT: 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.
Project description:Competence for natural DNA transformation is a tightly controlled developmental process in streptococci. In mutans and salivarius species, the abundance of the central competence regulator ?(X) is regulated at two levels: transcriptional, by the ComRS signaling system via the ?(X)/ComX/SigX-inducing peptide (XIP), and posttranscriptional, by the adaptor protein MecA and its associated Clp ATPase, ClpC. In this study, we further investigated the mechanism and function of the MecA-ClpC control system in the salivarius species Streptococcus thermophilus. Using in vitro approaches, we showed that MecA specifically interacts with both ?(X) and ClpC, suggesting the formation of a ternary ?(X)-MecA-ClpC complex. Moreover, we demonstrated that MecA ultimately targets ?(X) for its degradation by the ClpCP protease in an ATP-dependent manner. We also identify a short sequence (18 amino acids) in the N-terminal domain of ?(X) as essential for the interaction with MecA and subsequent ?(X) degradation. Finally, increased transformability of a MecA-deficient strain in the presence of subinducing XIP concentrations suggests that the MecA-ClpCP proteolytic complex acts as an additional locking device to prevent competence under inappropriate conditions. A model of the interplay between ComRS and MecA-ClpCP in the control of ?(X) activity is proposed.
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: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:<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 thermophilus, the ComRS regulatory system governs the transcriptional level of comX expression and, hence, controls the early stage of competence development. The present work focuses on the posttranslational control of the activity of the sigma factor ComX and, therefore, on the late stage of competence regulation. In silico analysis performed on the S. thermophilus genome revealed the presence of a homolog of mecA (mecA(St)), which codes for the adaptor protein that is involved in ComK degradation by ClpCP in Bacillus subtilis. Using reporter strains and microarray experiments, we showed that MecA(St) represses late competence genes without affecting the early competence stage under conditions that are not permissive for competence development. In addition, this repression mechanism was found not only to act downstream of comX expression but also to be fully dependent on the presence of a functional comX gene. This negative control was similarly released in strains deleted for clpC, mecA, and clpC-mecA. Under artificial conditions of comX expression, we next showed that the abundance of ComX is higher in the absence of MecA or ClpC. Finally, results of bacterial two-hybrid assays strongly suggested that MecA interacts with both ComX and ClpC. Based on these results, we proposed that ClpC and MecA act together in the same regulatory circuit to control the abundance of ComX in S. thermophilus.
Project description:Regulated proteolysis by ATP-dependent proteases is universal in all living cells. In Bacillus subtilis, the degradation of the competence transcription factor ComK is mediated by a ternary complex involving the adaptor protein MecA and the ATP-dependent protease ClpCP. Here we demonstrate that a C-terminal, 98-amino acid domain of MecA (residues 121-218) serves as a non-recycling, degradation tag and targets a variety of fusion proteins to the ClpCP protease for degradation. MecA-(121-218) facilitates productive oligomerization of ClpC, stimulates the ATPase activity of ClpC, and allows the activated ClpC complex to stably associate with ClpP. Importantly, the ClpCP protease undergoes dynamic cycles of assembly and disassembly, which are triggered by association with MecA and the degradation of MecA, respectively.
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.