Rothia from the Human Nose Inhibit Moraxella catarrhalis Colonization with a Secreted Peptidoglycan Endopeptidase

mBio. 2023 Apr 25;14(2):e0046423. doi: 10.1128/mbio.00464-23. Epub 2023 Apr 3.


Moraxella catarrhalis is found almost exclusively within the human respiratory tract. This pathobiont is associated with ear infections and the development of respiratory illnesses, including allergies and asthma. Given the limited ecological distribution of M. catarrhalis, we hypothesized that we could leverage the nasal microbiomes of healthy children without M. catarrhalis to identify bacteria that may represent potential sources of therapeutics. Rothia was more abundant in the noses of healthy children compared to children with cold symptoms and M. catarrhalis. We cultured Rothia from nasal samples and determined that most isolates of Rothia dentocariosa and "Rothia similmucilaginosa" were able to fully inhibit the growth of M. catarrhalis in vitro, whereas isolates of Rothia aeria varied in their ability to inhibit M. catarrhalis. Using comparative genomics and proteomics, we identified a putative peptidoglycan hydrolase called secreted antigen A (SagA). This protein was present at higher relative abundance in the secreted proteomes of R. dentocariosa and R. similmucilaginosa than in those from non-inhibitory R. aeria, suggesting that it may be involved in M. catarrhalis inhibition. We produced SagA from R. similmucilaginosa in Escherichia coli and confirmed its ability to degrade M. catarrhalis peptidoglycan and inhibit its growth. We then demonstrated that R. aeria and R. similmucilaginosa reduced M. catarrhalis levels in an air-liquid interface culture model of the respiratory epithelium. Together, our results suggest that Rothia restricts M. catarrhalis colonization of the human respiratory tract in vivo. IMPORTANCE Moraxella catarrhalis is a pathobiont of the respiratory tract, responsible for ear infections in children and wheezing illnesses in children and adults with chronic respiratory diseases. Detection of M. catarrhalis during wheezing episodes in early life is associated with the development of persistent asthma. There are currently no effective vaccines for M. catarrhalis, and most clinical isolates are resistant to the commonly prescribed antibiotics amoxicillin and penicillin. Given the limited niche of M. catarrhalis, we hypothesized that other nasal bacteria have evolved mechanisms to compete against M. catarrhalis. We found that Rothia are associated with the nasal microbiomes of healthy children without Moraxella. Next, we demonstrated that Rothia inhibit M. catarrhalis in vitro and on airway cells. We identified an enzyme produced by Rothia called SagA that degrades M. catarrhalis peptidoglycan and inhibits its growth. We suggest that Rothia or SagA could be developed as highly specific therapeutics against M. catarrhalis.

Keywords: Moraxella catarrhalis; Rothia; Rothia aeria; Rothia dentocariosa; Rothia mucilaginosa; acute otitis media; asthma; nasal microbiome; peptidoglycan endopeptidase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Moraxella catarrhalis*
  • Peptidoglycan / metabolism
  • Respiratory Sounds


  • peptidoglycan endopeptidase
  • Peptidoglycan

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.20444466