Central role of a bacterial two-component gene regulatory system of previously unknown function in pathogen persistence in human saliva

Samuel Shelburne, Paul Sumby, Izabela Sitkiewics, Chanel Granville, Frank R. DeLeo, James M. Musser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The molecular genetic mechanisms used by bacteria to persist in humans are poorly understood. Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes the majority of bacterial pharyngitis cases in humans and is prone to persistently inhabit the upper respiratory tract. To gain information about how GAS survives in and infects the oropharynx, we analyzed the transcriptome of a serotype M1 strain grown in saliva. The dynamic pattern of changes in transcripts of genes [spy0874/0875, herein named sptR and sptS (sptR/S), for saliva persistence] encoding a two-component gene regulatory system of unknown function suggested that SptR/S contributed to persistence of GAS in saliva. Consistent with this idea, an isogenic nonpolar mutant strain (ΔsptR) was dramatically less able to survive in saliva compared with the parental strain. Iterative expression microarray analysis of bacteria grown in saliva revealed that transcripts of several known and putative GAS virulence factor genes were decreased significantly in the ΔsptR mutant strain. Compared with the parental strain, the isogenic mutant strain also had altered transcripts of multiple genes encoding proteins involved in complex carbohydrate acquisition and utilization pathways. Western immunoblot analysis and real-time PCR analysis of GAS in throat swabs taken from humans with pharyngitis confirmed the findings. We conclude that SptR/S optimizes persistence of GAS in human saliva, apparently by strategically influencing metabolic pathways and virulence factor production. The discovery of a genetic program that significantly increased persistence of a major human pathogen in saliva enhances understanding of how bacteria survive in the host and suggests new therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16037-16042
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 1 2005


  • Gene expression
  • Group A Streptococcus
  • Microarray
  • Streptococcus pyogenes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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