Regulation of the gtfBC and ftf genes of Streptococcus mutans in biofilms in response to pH and carbohydrate

Microbiology (Reading). 2001 Oct;147(Pt 10):2841-2848. doi: 10.1099/00221287-147-10-2841.


Streptococcus mutans produces a number of extracellular sucrose-metabolizing enzymes that contribute to the ability of the organism to cause dental caries, including three glucosyltransferases, the products of the gtfB, gtfC and gtfD genes, and a fructosyltransferase, encoded by the ftf gene. To better understand the regulation of the expression of these genes under environmental conditions that more closely mimic those in dental plaque, two strains of S. mutans harbouring fusions of the gtfBC (SMS102) and ftf (SMS101) promoters to a chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene were examined in biofilms formed in vitro. The strains were grown in a Rototorque biofilm reactor in a tryptone-yeast extract-sucrose medium. CAT specific activity in biofilm cells was measured at quasi-steady state or following additions of 25 mM sucrose or glucose, with or without pH control. After approximately 10 generations of biofilm growth, the ftf and gtfBC genes of S. mutans were found to be expressed at levels different from those reported for planktonic cells growing under otherwise similar conditions. The expression of these genes was induced by the addition of sucrose to the quasi-steady-state cultures. Expression of the gtfBC genes was influenced by environmental pH, since CAT specific activities in quasi-steady-state biofilms of strain SMS102 grown without pH control were twice those produced by cells grown with pH control. Moreover, addition of glucose to quasi-steady-state biofilms resulted in increased expression of the gtfBC-cat fusion, although the magnitude of the induction was less than that seen with sucrose. The effect of pH on ftf expression was negligible. A modest and transient induction of ftf was observed in biofilms pulsed with excess glucose and the kinetics and level of induction of ftf by excess carbohydrate were dependent on the pH of the biofilms. This study demonstrates that the type and amount of carbohydrate and the environmental pH have a major influence on transcription of the gtfBC and ftf genes when the organisms are growing in biofilms, and provides evidence for previously undisclosed regulatory circuits for exopolysaccharide gene expression in S. mutans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Chloramphenicol O-Acetyltransferase / genetics
  • Chloramphenicol O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Dental Caries / microbiology
  • Dental Plaque / microbiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glucosyltransferases / genetics
  • Glucosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Hexosyltransferases / genetics
  • Hexosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Streptococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Streptococcus mutans / genetics
  • Streptococcus mutans / metabolism
  • Streptococcus mutans / pathogenicity
  • Streptococcus mutans / physiology*
  • Sucrose / metabolism


  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Sucrose
  • Chloramphenicol O-Acetyltransferase
  • 1,3-alpha-D-glucan synthase
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • Hexosyltransferases
  • glucosyltransferase C
  • inulosucrase
  • Glucose