Pleiotropic mutations alter the kinetics of calcium transport, competence regulation, autolysis and experimental virulence in Streptococcus pneumoniae

Res Microbiol. 1998 Jan;149(1):5-13. doi: 10.1016/s0923-2508(97)83618-2.


Streptococcus pneumoniae is a pathogen in which the extracellular calcium concentration plays a major physiological role, in growth as well as in the induction of competence for genetic transformation and activation of autolysis. Both responses are under the control of a protein activator exported in the medium. We have checked the impact of mutations which alter the regulation of competence and autolysis on experimental virulence. Isogenic encapsulated derivatives carrying the relevant mutations were serotype 3 smooth clones, obtained by transformation of the relevant rough strains with DNA from a serotype 3 smooth isolate. Survival kinetics and bacterial clearance from the blood were followed after intraperitoneal infection of Swiss mice with the different bacterial cultures. In this model, mutants showing an attenuation of virulence relative to the wild type fell into two classes. In the first, represented by the lytA::ery mutant V1095 defective for calcium-induced autolysis, attenuated virulence could be correlated with rapid bacterial clearance from the blood. In the second, represented by the dmb mutants V2200 and V3300, attenuation was associated with delayed bacterial clearance from the blood, and correlated with altered kinetics of calcium transport and of regulation of competence and autolysis. It appeared unlikely that attenuation of virulence for strains V2200 and V3300 was a direct consequence of their competence phenotype, since the com::ery mutants V1008 and V1019, defective for the production of the competence activator, were as virulent as the wild-type strain. Autolysis involving an N-acetyl-muramyl-alanine amidase encoded by lytA was also regulated by calcium. The inserted allele lytA0::ery further reduced virulence in the dmb1 background (V2200). This additive effect of lytA- to dmb1 points to different routes of virulence regulation by LYT and DMB1 and suggests that the kinetics of calcium traffic controls several pathways involved in the virulence of pneumococcus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autolysis
  • Bacteriolysis
  • Biological Transport
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mutation*
  • N-Acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine Amidase*
  • Pneumococcal Infections / blood
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / pathogenicity*
  • Transformation, Bacterial
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Enzymes
  • N-Acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine Amidase
  • Calcium