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MBio. 2013 Sep 24;4(5):e00646-13. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00646-13.

Basal levels of (p)ppGpp in Enterococcus faecalis: the magic beyond the stringent response.

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Center for Oral Biology and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA.


The stringent response (SR), mediated by the alarmone (p)ppGpp, is a conserved bacterial adaptation system controlling broad metabolic alterations necessary for survival under adverse conditions. In Enterococcus faecalis, production of (p)ppGpp is controlled by the bifunctional protein RSH (for "Rel SpoT homologue"; also known as RelA) and by the monofunctional synthetase RelQ. Previous characterization of E. faecalis strains lacking rsh, relQ, or both revealed that RSH is responsible for activation of the SR and that alterations in (p)ppGpp production negatively impact bacterial stress survival and virulence. Despite its well-characterized role as the effector of the SR, the significance of (p)ppGpp during balanced growth remains poorly understood. Microarrays of E. faecalis strains producing different basal amounts of (p)ppGpp identified several genes and pathways regulated by modest changes in (p)ppGpp. Notably, expression of numerous genes involved in energy generation were induced in the rsh relQ [(p)ppGpp(0)] strain, suggesting that a lack of basal (p)ppGpp places the cell in a "transcriptionally relaxed" state. Alterations in the fermentation profile and increased production of H2O2 in the (p)ppGpp(0) strain substantiate the observed transcriptional changes. We confirm that, similar to what is seen in Bacillus subtilis, (p)ppGpp directly inhibits the activity of enzymes involved in GTP biosynthesis, and complete loss of (p)ppGpp leads to dysregulation of GTP homeostasis. Finally, we show that the association of (p)ppGpp with antibiotic survival does not relate to the SR but rather relates to basal (p)ppGpp pools. Collectively, this study highlights the critical but still underappreciated role of basal (p)ppGpp pools under balanced growth conditions.


Drug-resistant bacterial infections continue to pose a significant public health threat by limiting therapeutic options available to care providers. The stringent response (SR), mediated by the accumulation of two modified guanine nucleotides collectively known as (p)ppGpp, is a highly conserved stress response that broadly remodels bacterial physiology to a survival state. Given the strong correlation of the SR with the ability of bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment and the direct association of (p)ppGpp production with bacterial infectivity, understanding how bacteria produce and utilize (p)ppGpp may reveal potential targets for the development of new antimicrobial therapies. Using the multidrug-resistant pathogen Enterococcus faecalis as a model, we show that small alterations to (p)ppGpp levels, well below concentrations needed to trigger the SR, severely affected bacterial metabolism and antibiotic survival. Our findings highlight the often-underappreciated contribution of basal (p)ppGpp levels to metabolic balance and stress tolerance in bacteria.

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