Characterization of a Signaling System in Streptococcus mitis That Mediates Interspecies Communication with Streptococcus pneumoniae

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 Jan 9;85(2):e02297-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02297-18. Print 2019 Jan 15.


Streptococcus mitis is found in the oral cavity and nasopharynx and forms a significant portion of the human microbiome. In this study, in silico analyses indicated the presence of an Rgg regulator and short hydrophobic peptide (Rgg/SHP) cell-to-cell communication system in S. mitis Although Rgg presented greater similarity to a repressor in Streptococcus pyogenes, autoinducing assays and genetic mutation analysis revealed that in S. mitis Rgg acts as an activator. Transcriptome analysis showed that in addition to shp, the system regulates two other downstream genes, comprising a segment of a putative lantibiotic gene cluster that is in a conjugative element locus in different members of the mitis group. Close comparison to a similar lantibiotic gene cluster in Streptococcus pneumoniae indicated that S. mitis lacked the full set of genes. Despite the potential of SHP to trigger a futile cycle of autoinduction, growth was not significantly affected for the rgg mutant under normal or antibiotic stress conditions. The S. mitis SHP was, however, fully functional in promoting cross-species communication and increasing S. pneumoniae surface polysaccharide production, which in this species is regulated by Rgg/SHP. The activity of SHPs produced by both species was detected in cocultures using a S. mitis reporter strain. In competitive assays, a slight advantage was observed for the rgg mutants. We conclude that the Rgg/SHP system in S. mitis regulates the expression of its own shp and activates an Rgg/SHP system in S. pneumoniae that regulates surface polysaccharide synthesis. Fundamentally, cross-communication of such systems may have a role during multispecies interactions.IMPORTANCE Bacteria secrete signal molecules into the environment which are sensed by other cells when the density reaches a certain threshold. In this study, we describe a communication system in Streptococcus mitis, a commensal species from the oral cavity, which we also found in several species and strains of streptococci from the mitis group. Further, we show that this system can promote cross-communication with S. pneumoniae, a closely related major human pathogen. Importantly, we show that this cross-communication can take place during coculture. While the genes regulated in S. mitis are likely part of a futile cycle of activation, the target genes in S. pneumoniae are potentially involved in virulence. The understanding of such complex communication networks can provide important insights into the dynamics of bacterial communities.

Keywords: Streptococcus; mutagenesis; quorum sensing; transcriptional regulation; virulence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Quorum Sensing / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Streptococcus mitis / physiology*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / physiology*
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • rgg protein, Streptococcus