Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteriophages (phages) rely on a holin-lysin system to accomplish host lysis. Due to the lack of lysin export signals, it is assumed that holin disruption of the cytoplasmic membrane allows endolysin access to the peptidoglycan. We investigated the lysis mechanism of pneumococcal phage SV1, by using lysogens without holin activity. Upon phage induction in a holin deficient background, phage lysin was gradually targeted to the cell wall, in spite of lacking any obvious signal sequence. Our data indicate that export of the phage lysin requires the presence of choline in the teichoic acids, an unusual characteristic of pneumococci. At the bacterial surface, the exolysin remains bound to choline residues without inducing lysis, but is readily activated by the collapse of the membrane potential. Additionally, the activation of the major autolysin LytA, which also participates in phage-mediated lysis, is equally related to perturbations of the membrane proton motive force. These results indicate that collapse of the membrane potential by holins is sufficient to trigger bacterial lysis. We found that the lysin of phage SV1 reaches the peptidoglycan through a novel holin-independent pathway and propose that the same mechanism could be used by other pneumococcal phages.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.