Small RNA molecules play key regulatory roles in many bacterial species. However, little mechanistic data exists for the action of small regulatory RNAs in the human pathogen group A Streptococcus (GAS). Here, we analysed the relationship between a putative GAS sRNA and production of the secreted virulence factor streptokinase (SKA). SKA promotes GAS dissemination by activating conversion of host plasminogen into the fibrin-degrading protease plasmin. Homologues of the putative sRNA-encoding gene fibronectin/fibrinogen-binding/haemolytic-activity/streptokinase-regulator-X (fasX) were identified in four different pyogenic streptococcal species. However, despite 79% fasX nucleotide identity, a fasX allele from the animal pathogen Streptococcus zooepidemicus failed to complement a GAS fasX mutant. Using a series of precisely constructed fasX alleles we discovered that FasX is a bona-fide sRNA that post-transcriptionally regulates SKA production in GAS. By base-pairing to the 5' end of ska mRNA, FasX enhances ska transcript stability, resulting in a ∼10-fold increase in SKA activity. Our data provide new insights into the mechanisms used by small regulatory RNAs to activate target mRNAs, and enhances our understanding of the regulation of a key GAS virulence factor.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.