Moraxella catarrhalis NucM is an entry nuclease involved in extracellular DNA and RNA degradation, cell competence and biofilm scaffolding

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 22;9(1):2579. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39374-0.


Moraxella catarrhalis is a host-adapted bacterial pathogen that causes otitis media and exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This study characterises the conserved M. catarrhalis extracellular nuclease, a member of the ββα metal finger family of nucleases, that we have named NucM. NucM shares conserved sequence motifs from the ββα nuclease family, including the DRGH catalytic core and Mg2+ co-ordination site, but otherwise shares little primary sequence identity with other family members, such as the Serratia Nuc and pneumococcal EndA nucleases. NucM is secreted from the cell and digests linear and circular nucleic acid. However, it appears that a proportion of NucM is also associated with the cell membrane and acts as an entry nuclease, facilitating transformation of M. catarrhalis cells. This is the first example of a ββα nuclease in a Gram negative bacteria that acts as an entry nuclease. In addition to its role in competence, NucM affects cell aggregation and biofilm formation by M. catarrhalis, with ΔnucM mutants having increased biofilm biomass. NucM is likely to increase the ability of cells to survive and persist in vivo, increasing the virulence of M. catarrhalis and potentially affecting the behaviour of other pathogens that co-colonise the otorhinolaryngological niche.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / genetics
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Gene Deletion
  • Moraxella catarrhalis / physiology*
  • RNA Stability*
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • Deoxyribonucleases