Journal of bacteriology

Discovery of novel peptides regulating competence development in Streptococcus mutans.

PMID 25135217


A MarR-like transcriptional repressor (RcrR) and two predicted ABC efflux pumps (RcrPQ) encoded by a single operon were recently shown to be dominant regulators of stress tolerance and development of genetic competence in the oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans. Here, we focused on polar (ΔrcrR-P) and nonpolar (ΔrcrR-NP) rcrR mutants, which are hyper- and nontransformable, respectively, to dissect the mechanisms by which these mutations impact competence. We discovered two open reading frames (ORFs) in the 3' end of the rcrQ gene that encode peptides of 27 and 42 amino acids (aa) which are also dramatically upregulated in the ΔrcrR-NP strain. Deletion of, or start codon mutations in, the ORFs for the peptides in the ΔrcrR-NP background restored competence and sensitivity to competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) to levels seen in the ΔrcrR-P strain. Overexpression of the peptides adversely affected competence development. Importantly, overexpression of mutant derivatives of the ABC exporters that lacked the peptides also resulted in impaired competence. FLAG-tagged versions of the peptides could be detected in S. mutans, and FLAG tagging of the peptides impaired their function. The competence phenotypes associated with the various mutations, and with overexpression of the peptides and ABC transporters, were correlated with the levels of ComX protein in cells. Collectively, these studies revealed multiple novel mechanisms for regulation of competence development by the components of the rcrRPQ operon. Given their intimate role in competence and stress tolerance, the rcrRPQ-encoded peptides may prove to be useful targets for therapeutics to diminish the virulence of S. mutans.