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Mol Microbiol. 2009 May;72(4):905-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06693.x. Epub 2009 Apr 14.

Peptide alarmone signalling triggers an auto-active bacteriocin necessary for genetic competence.

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Dental Research Institute, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


The induction of genetic competence is a strategy used by bacteria to increase their genetic repertoire under stressful environmental conditions. Recently, Streptococcus pneumoniae has been shown to co-ordinate the uptake of transforming DNA with fratricide via increased expression of the peptide pheromone responsible for competence induction. Here, we document that environmental stress-induced expression of the peptide pheromone competence-stimulating peptide (CSP) in the oral pathogen Streptococcus mutans. We showed that CSP is involved in the stress response and determined the CSP-induced regulon in S. mutans by microarray analysis. Contrary to pneumococcus, S. mutans responds to increased concentrations of CSP by cell lysis in only a fraction of the population. We have focused on the mechanism of cell lysis and have identified a novel bacteriocin as the 'death effector'. Most importantly, we showed that this bacteriocin causes cell death via a novel mechanism of action: intracellular action against self. We have also identified the cognate bacteriocin immunity protein, which resides in a separate unlinked genetic locus to allow its differential regulation. The role of the lytic response in S. mutans competence is also discussed. Together, these findings reveal a novel autolytic pathway in S. mutans which may be involved in the dissemination of fitness-enhancing genes in the oral biofilm.

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