Infection and immunity

Sequence elements upstream of the core promoter are necessary for full transcription of the capsule gene operon in Streptococcus pneumoniae strain D39.

PMID 25733517


Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major bacterial pathogen in humans. Its polysaccharide capsule is a key virulence factor that promotes bacterial evasion of human phagocytic killing. While S. pneumoniae produces at least 94 antigenically different types of capsule, the genes for biosynthesis of almost all capsular types are arranged in the same locus. The transcription of the capsular polysaccharide (cps) locus is not well understood. This study determined the transcriptional features of the cps locus in the type 2 virulent strain D39. The initial analysis revealed that the cps genes are cotranscribed from a major transcription start site at the -25 nucleotide (G) upstream of cps2A, the first gene in the locus. Using unmarked chromosomal truncations and a luciferase-based transcriptional reporter, we showed that the full transcription of the cps genes not only depends on the core promoter immediately upstream of cps2A, but also requires additional elements upstream of the core promoter, particularly a 59-bp sequence immediately upstream of the core promoter. Unmarked deletions of these promoter elements in the D39 genome also led to significant reduction in CPS production and virulence in mice. Lastly, common cps gene (cps2ABCD) mutants did not show significant abnormality in cps transcription, although they produced significantly less CPS, indicating that the CpsABCD proteins are involved in the encapsulation of S. pneumoniae in a posttranscriptional manner. This study has yielded important information on the transcriptional characteristics of the cps locus in S. pneumoniae.