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J Biol Chem. 2019 Oct 8. pii: jbc.RA119.010764. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010764. [Epub ahead of print]

Carbon source regulates polysaccharide capsule biosynthesis in Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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University of Bern, Switzerland.
Departments of BioMedical Research and Radiology, University and Inselspital Bern, Switzerland.
Department of Chemistry & Biochemsitry, University of Bern, Switzerland.
University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Dept. Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Bern, Switzerland.


The exopolysaccharide capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae is an important virulence factor, but the mechanisms that regulate capsule thickness are not fully understood. Here, we investigated the effects of various exogenously supplied carbohydrates on capsule production and gene expression in several pneumococcal serotypes. Microscopy analyses indicated a near absence of the capsular polysaccharide (CPS) when S. pneumoniae was grown in fructose. Moreover, serotype 7F pneumococci produced much less CPS than strains of other serotypes (6B, 6C, 9V, 15, and 23F) when grown on glucose or sucrose. RNA-Sequencing revealed carbon source-dependent regulation of distinct genes of wildtype strains and capsule-switch mutants of serotypes 6B and 7F, but could not explain the mechanism of capsule thickness regulation. In contrast, 31P NMR of whole-cell extract from capsule-knockout strains (Δcps) clearly revealed the accumulation or absence of capsule precursor metabolites when cells were grown on glucose or fructose, respectively. This finding suggests that fructose uptake mainly results in intracellular fructose-1-phosphate, which is not converted to CPS precursors. In addition, serotype 7F strains accumulated more precursors than did 6B strains, indicating less efficient conversion of precursor metabolites into the CPS in 7F, in line with its thinner capsule. Finally, isotopologue sucrose labeling and NMR analyses revealed that the uptake of the labeled fructose subunit into the capsule is < 10% that of glucose. Our findings on the effects of carbon sources on CPS production in different S. pneumoniae serotypes may contribute to a better understanding of pneumococcal diseases and could inform future therapeutic approaches.


Streptococcus; Streptococcus pneumoniae; bacterial metabolism; carbohydrate metabolism; exopolysaccharide capsule; fructose; glucose; nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR); serotype; sucrose; virulence factor

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