Streptococcus mutans is generally recognized as a causative agent of human dental caries. The production of mutacins (bacteriocins) by S. mutans is considered to be an important factor in the colonization and establishment of S. mutans in the dental biofilm. Two types of mutacins have been characterized: the lantibiotics and the non-lantibiotics. The lantibiotics generally have a wider spectrum of activity than the non-lantibiotics, which make them attractive targets for development into new antimicrobial modalities. The non-lantibiotics are much more prevalent among strains of S. mutans and play a significant role in both community-level and population-level interactions in the dental biofilm. These interactions are directly mediated through the ComCDE two-component system and the newly characterized LytTR Regulation Systems HdrRM and BrsRM. These systems coordinate natural competence development and mutacin production as a means to acquire transforming DNA either by killing closely related streptococcal species in the vicinity of S. mutans, or through an altruistic suicide mechanism among a subpopulation of competent cells within the S. mutans community. As more S. mutans strains are sequenced, it is anticipated that additional mutacins with novel functions will be discovered, which may yield further insights into the ecological role of mutacins within the oral biofilm.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.