High levels of genetic recombination during nasopharyngeal carriage and biofilm formation in Streptococcus pneumoniae

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Abstract

UNLABELLED: Transformation of genetic material between bacteria was first observed in the 1920s using Streptococcus pneumoniae as a model organism. Since then, the mechanism of competence induction and transformation has been well characterized, mainly using planktonic bacteria or septic infection models. However, epidemiological evidence suggests that genetic exchange occurs primarily during pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage, which we have recently shown is associated with biofilm growth, and is associated with cocolonization with multiple strains. However, no studies to date have comprehensively investigated genetic exchange during cocolonization in vitro and in vivo or the role of the nasopharyngeal environment in these processes. In this study, we show that genetic exchange during dual-strain carriage in vivo is extremely efficient (10(-2)) and approximately 10,000,000-fold higher than that measured during septic infection (10(-9)). This high transformation efficiency was associated with environmental conditions exclusive to the nasopharynx, including the lower temperature of the nasopharynx (32 to 34°C), limited nutrient availability, and interactions with epithelial cells, which were modeled in a novel biofilm model in vitro that showed similarly high transformation efficiencies. The nasopharyngeal environmental factors, combined, were critical for biofilm formation and induced constitutive upregulation of competence genes and downregulation of capsule that promoted transformation. In addition, we show that dual-strain carriage in vivo and biofilms formed in vitro can be transformed during colonization to increase their pneumococcal fitness and also, importantly, that bacteria with lower colonization ability can be protected by strains with higher colonization efficiency, a process unrelated to genetic exchange.

IMPORTANCE: Although genetic exchange between pneumococcal strains is known to occur primarily during colonization of the nasopharynx and colonization is associated with biofilm growth, this is the first study to comprehensively investigate transformation in this environment and to analyze the role of environmental and bacterial factors in this process. We show that transformation efficiency during cocolonization by multiple strains is very high (around 10(-2)). Furthermore, we provide novel evidence that specific aspects of the nasopharyngeal environment, including lower temperature, limited nutrient availability, and epithelial cell interaction, are critical for optimal biofilm formation and transformation efficiency and result in bacterial protein expression changes that promote transformation and fitness of colonization-deficient strains. The results suggest that cocolonization in biofilm communities may have important clinical consequences by facilitating the spread of antibiotic resistance and enabling serotype switching and vaccine escape as well as protecting and retaining poorly colonizing strains in the pneumococcal strain pool.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University at Buffalo
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Infectious Medicine
  • Cell and Molecular Biology

Keywords

  • Animals, Bacterial Capsules, Biofilms, Carrier State, DNA Transformation Competence, Female, Mice, Mice, Inbred BALB C, Nasopharynx, Pneumococcal Infections, Recombination, Genetic, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Transformation, Bacterial
Original languageEnglish
JournalmBio
Volume3
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes