Background: Streptococcus oralis, Streptococcus mitis, and Streptococcus sanguinis are members of the Mitis group of streptococci and agents of oral biofilm, dental plaque and infective endocarditis, disease processes that involve bacteria-bacteria and bacteria-host interactions. Their close relative, the human pathogen S. pneumoniae uses pilus-islet 2 (PI-2)-encoded pili to facilitate adhesion to eukaryotic cells.
Methodology/principal findings: PI-2 pilus-encoding genetic islets were identified in S. oralis, S. mitis, and S. sanguinis, but were absent from other isolates of these species. The PI-2 islets resembled the genetic organization of the PI-2 islet of S. pneumoniae, but differed in the genes encoding the structural pilus proteins PitA and PitB. Two and three variants of pitA (a pseudogene in S. pneumoniae) and pitB, respectively, were identified that showed ≈20% difference in nucleotide as well as corresponding protein sequence. Species-independent combinations of pitA and pitB variants indicated prior intra- and interspecies horizontal gene transfer events. Polyclonal antisera developed against PitA and PitB of S. oralis type strain ATCC35037 revealed that PI-2 pili in oral streptococci were composed of PitA and PitB. Electronmicrographs showed pilus structures radiating >700 nm from the bacterial surface in the wild type strain, but not in an isogenic PI-2 deletion mutant. Anti-PitB-antiserum only reacted with pili containing the same PitB variant, whereas anti-PitA antiserum was cross-reactive with the other PitA variant. Electronic multilocus sequence analysis revealed that all PI-2-encoding oral streptococci were closely-related and cluster with non-PI-2-encoding S. oralis strains.
Conclusions/significance: This is the first identification of PI-2 pili in Mitis group oral streptococci. The findings provide a striking example of intra- and interspecies horizontal gene transfer. The PI-2 pilus diversity provides a possible key to link strain-specific bacterial interactions and/or tissue tropisms with pathogenic traits in the Mitis group streptococci.