Background: Post-transcriptional regulation by small RNAs (sRNAs) in bacteria is now recognized as a wide-spread regulatory mechanism modulating a variety of physiological responses including virulence. In Streptococcus pneumoniae, an important human pathogen, the first sRNAs to be described were found in the regulon of the CiaRH two-component regulatory system. Five of these sRNAs were detected and designated csRNAs for cia-dependent small RNAs. CiaRH pleiotropically affects β-lactam resistance, autolysis, virulence, and competence development by yet to be defined molecular mechanisms. Since CiaRH is highly conserved among streptococci, it is of interest to determine if csRNAs are also included in the CiaRH regulon in this group of organisms consisting of commensal as well as pathogenic species. Knowledge on the participation of csRNAs in CiaRH-dependent regulatory events will be the key to define the physiological role of this important control system.
Results: Genes for csRNAs were predicted in streptococcal genomes and data base entries other than S. pneumoniae by searching for CiaR-activated promoters located in intergenic regions that are followed by a transcriptional terminator. 61 different candidate genes were obtained specifying csRNAs ranging in size from 51 to 202 nt. Comparing these genes among each other revealed 40 different csRNA types. All streptococcal genomes harbored csRNA genes, their numbers varying between two and six. To validate these predictions, S. mitis, S. oralis, and S. sanguinis were subjected to csRNA-specific northern blot analysis. In addition, a csRNA gene from S. thermophilus plasmid pST0 introduced into S. pneumoniae was also tested. Each of the csRNAs was detected on these blots and showed the anticipated sizes. Thus, the method applied here is able to predict csRNAs with high precision.
Conclusions: The results of this study strongly suggest that genes for small non-coding RNAs, csRNAs, are part of the regulon of the two-component regulatory system CiaRH in all streptococci.