RNA cis-regulators are important for Streptococcus pneumoniae in vivo success

PLoS Genet. 2024 Mar 5;20(3):e1011188. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1011188. eCollection 2024 Mar.


Bacteria have evolved complex transcriptional regulatory networks, as well as many diverse regulatory strategies at the RNA level, to enable more efficient use of metabolic resources and a rapid response to changing conditions. However, most RNA-based regulatory mechanisms are not well conserved across different bacterial species despite controlling genes important for virulence or essential biosynthetic processes. Here, we characterize the activity of, and assess the fitness benefit conferred by, twelve cis-acting regulatory RNAs (including several riboswitches and a T-box), in the opportunistic pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae TIGR4. By evaluating native locus mutants of each regulator that result in constitutively active or repressed expression, we establish that growth defects in planktonic culture are associated with constitutive repression of gene expression, while constitutive activation of gene expression is rarely deleterious. In contrast, in mouse nasal carriage and pneumonia models, strains with either constitutively active and repressed gene expression are significantly less fit than matched control strains. Furthermore, two RNA-regulated pathways, FMN synthesis/transport and pyrimidine synthesis/transport display exceptional sensitivity to mis-regulation or constitutive gene repression in both planktonic culture and in vivo environments. Thus, despite lack of obvious phenotypes associated with constitutive gene expression in vitro, the fitness benefit conferred on bacteria via fine-tuned metabolic regulation through cis-acting regulatory RNAs is substantial in vivo, and therefore easily sufficient to drive the evolution and maintenance of diverse RNA regulatory mechanisms.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Mice
  • Phenotype
  • RNA* / metabolism
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae* / genetics
  • Virulence / genetics


  • RNA
  • Bacterial Proteins