Changes in biochemical and phenotypic properties of Streptococcus mutans during growth with aeration

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2009 Apr;75(8):2517-27. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02367-08. Epub 2009 Feb 27.


Oxygen has a potent influence on the expression of genes and the activity of physiological and biochemical pathways in bacteria. We have found that oxygen significantly altered virulence-related phenotypic properties of Streptococcus mutans, the primary etiological agent of human dental caries. Transport of glucose, fructose, or mannose by the sugar:phosphotransferase system was significantly enhanced by growth under aerobic conditions, whereas aeration caused an extended lag phase and slower growth of S. mutans in medium containing glucose, fructose, or mannose as the carbohydrate source. Aeration resulted in a decrease in the glycolytic rate and enhanced the production of intracellular storage polysaccharides. Although aeration decreased the acid tolerance of S. mutans, aerobically grown cells had higher F-ATPase activity. Aeration altered biofilm architecture but did not change the ability of S. mutans to interact with salivary agglutinin. Growth in air resulted in enhanced cell-associated glucosyltransferase (Gtf) activity at the expense of cell-free Gtf activity. These results demonstrate that S. mutans can dramatically alter its pathogenic potential in response to exposure to oxygen, suggesting that the phenotype of the organism may be highly variable in the human oral cavity depending on the maturity of the dental plaque biofilm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Saliva / microbiology
  • Streptococcus mutans / drug effects
  • Streptococcus mutans / growth & development*
  • Streptococcus mutans / metabolism*
  • Streptococcus mutans / pathogenicity
  • Virulence Factors / biosynthesis


  • Virulence Factors
  • Oxygen