Streptococcus pneumoniae is a strictly fermentative human pathogen that relies on carbohydrate metabolism to generate energy for growth. The nasopharynx colonized by the bacterium is poor in free sugars, but mucosa lining glycans can provide a source of sugar. In blood and inflamed tissues glucose is the prevailing sugar. As a result during progression from colonization to disease S. pneumoniae has to cope with a pronounced shift in carbohydrate nature and availability. Thus, we set out to assess the pneumococcal response to sugars found in glycans and the influence of glucose (Glc) on this response at the transcriptional, physiological, and metabolic levels. Galactose (Gal), N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc), and mannose (Man) affected the expression of 8 to 14% of the genes covering cellular functions including central carbon metabolism and virulence. The pattern of end-products as monitored by in vivo (13)C-NMR is in good agreement with the fermentation profiles during growth, while the pools of phosphorylated metabolites are consistent with the type of fermentation observed (homolactic vs. mixed) and regulation at the metabolic level. Furthermore, the accumulation of α-Gal6P and Man6P indicate metabolic bottlenecks in the metabolism of Gal and Man, respectively. Glc added to cells actively metabolizing other sugar(s) was readily consumed and elicited a metabolic shift toward a homolactic profile. The transcriptional response to Glc was large (over 5% of the genome). In central carbon metabolism (most represented category), Glc exerted mostly negative regulation. The smallest response to Glc was observed on a sugar mix, suggesting that exposure to varied sugars improves the fitness of S. pneumoniae. The expression of virulence factors was negatively controlled by Glc in a sugar-dependent manner. Overall, our results shed new light on the link between carbohydrate metabolism, adaptation to host niches and virulence.
Keywords: Streptococcus pneumoniae; glucose; glycan-derived sugars; in vivo13C-NMR; transcriptome.