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Pol J Microbiol. 2010;59(2):79-87.

Complex nature of enterococcal pheromone-responsive plasmids.

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Department of Epidemiology and Clinical Microbiology, National Medicines Institute, Warsaw, Poland.


Pheromone-responsive plasmids constitute a unique group of approximately 20 plasmids identified, as yet, only among enterococcal species. Several of their representatives, e.g. pAD1, pCF10, pPD1 and pAM373 have been extensively studied. These plasmids possess a sophisticated conjugation mechanism based on response to sex pheromones--small peptides produced by plasmid-free recipient cells. Detailed analysis of regulation and function of the pheromone response process revealed its great complexity and dual role--in plasmid conjugation and modulation of enterococcal virulence. Among other functional modules identified in pheromone plasmids, the stabilization/partition systems play a crucial role in stable maintenance of the plasmid molecule in host bacteria. Among them, the par locus of pAD1 is one of the exceptional RNA addiction systems. Pheromone-responsive plasmids contribute also to enterococcal phenotype being an important vehicle of antibiotic resistance in this genus. Both types of acquired vancomycin resistance determinants, vanA and vanB, as well many other resistant phenotypes, were found to be located on these plasmids. They also encode two basic agents of enterococcal virulence, i.e. aggregation substance (AS) and cytolysin. AS participates in mating-pair formation during conjugation but can also facilitate the adherence ofenterococci to human tissues during infection. The second protein, cytolysin, displays hemolytic activity and helps to invade eukaryotic cells. There are still many aspects of the nature of pheromone plasmids that remain unclear and more detailed studies are needed to understand their uniqueness and complexity.

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