Capsular expression in Streptococcus pneumoniae negatively affects spontaneous and antibiotic-induced lysis and contributes to antibiotic tolerance

J Infect Dis. 2004 Jan 15;189(2):328-38. doi: 10.1086/380564. Epub 2003 Dec 30.


Penicillin and vancomycin induce a lytic response in Streptococcus pneumoniae that requires the N-acetylmuramyl-l-alanine amidase LytA. We show that clinical isolates of pneumococci of capsular serotypes 1, 4, 6B, and 23F were generally less lytic to penicillin than pneumococci of serotypes 14 and 3. In addition, most 9V isolates were less lytic to vancomycin, compared with isolates of other serotypes. Parent-mutant pairs expressing and not expressing capsular serotypes 2, 4, and 9V were compared for antibiotic-induced lysis. The nonencapsulated variants were considerably more lytic after beta-lactam and/or vancomycin treatment, and antibiotic tolerance was seen only in the context of capsule expression. Conversion from a nonlytic to a lytic phenotype, after loss of capsule expression, required an intact lytA autolysin gene. Exogenous addition of purified LytA gave a lower lytic response in capsulated strains, compared with that in nonencapsulated mutants. Spontaneous autolysis in stationary phase also was negatively affected by capsule expression in an autolysin-dependent manner. Long-term starvation in the stationary phase of the vancomycin- and penicillin-tolerant isolate I95 yielded nonencapsulated mutants that had lost antibiotic tolerance and were lytic to penicillin and vancomycin. The 9V capsular locus of I95 and one of these stationary phase-selected mutants were completely sequenced. The only difference found was a 1-bp frameshift deletion in the cps9vE gene of the lytic mutant, encoding a uridine diphosphate-glucosyl-1-phosphate transferase. Two additional independently isolated lytic mutants of I95 from the stationary phase also contained mutations in the same region of cps9vE, which identified it as a mutational hot spot. This report demonstrates that capsular polysaccharides negatively influence the lytic process and contribute to antibiotic tolerance in clinical isolates of pneumococci.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacterial Capsules / physiology*
  • Bacteriolysis*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Enzymes / physiology
  • N-Acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine Amidase / physiology
  • Serotyping
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / drug effects*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Enzymes
  • LytB protein, Streptococcus
  • LytC protein, Streptococcus
  • N-Acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine Amidase