Signal transduction through CsrRS confers an invasive phenotype in group A Streptococcus

PLoS Pathog. 2011 Oct;7(10):e1002361. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002361. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


The CsrRS (or CovRS) two component system controls expression of up to 15% of the genome of group A Streptococcus (GAS). While some studies have suggested that the sensor histidine kinase CsrS responds to membrane perturbations as a result of various environmental stresses, other data have implicated the human antimicrobial peptide LL-37 and extracellular Mg(2+) as specific signals. We now report that Mg(2+) and LL-37 have opposite effects on expression of multiple genes that are activated or repressed by the transcriptional regulator CsrR. Using a GAS isolate representative of the recently emerged and widely disseminated M1T1 clone implicated in severe invasive disease, we found marked up-regulation by CsrRS of multiple virulence factors including pyrogenic exotoxin A, DNase Sda1, streptolysin O, and the hyaluronic acid capsular polysaccharide, among others. Topology and surface protein labeling studies indicated that CsrS is associated with the bacterial cell membrane and has a surface-exposed extracellular domain accessible to environmental ligands. Replacement of a cluster of three acidic amino acids with uncharged residues in the extracellular domain of CsrS abrogated LL-37 signaling and conferred a hyporesponsive phenotype consistent with tonic activation of CsrS autokinase activity, an effect that could be overridden by mutation of the CsrS active site histidine. Both loss- and gain-of-function mutations of a conserved site in the receiver domain of CsrR established an essential role for lysine 102 in CsrS-to-CsrR signal transduction. These results provide strong evidence that Mg(2+) and LL-37 are specific signals that function by altering CsrS autokinase activity and downstream phosphotransfer to CsrR to modulate its activity as a transcriptional regulator. The representation of multiple antiphagocytic and cytotoxic factors in the CsrRS regulon together with results of in vitro phagocytic killing assays support the hypothesis that CsrRS mediates conversion of GAS from a colonizing to an invasive phenotype in response to signaling by host LL-37.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Cathelicidins
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Streptococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Streptococcus pyogenes / drug effects
  • Streptococcus pyogenes / genetics*
  • Streptococcus pyogenes / pathogenicity*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Virulence Factors


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CsrR protein, Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Virulence Factors
  • Cathelicidins