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Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major human pathogen that can cause severe invasive diseases such as pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis. Young children are at a particularly high risk, with an estimated 3-4 million cases of severe disease and between 300 000 and 500 000 deaths attributable to pneumococcal disease each year. The haemolytic toxin pneumolysin (Ply) is a primary virulence factor for this bacterium, yet despite its key role in pathogenesis, immune evasion and transmission, the regulation of Ply production is not well defined. Using a genome-wide association approach, we identified a large number of potential affectors of Ply activity, including a gene acquired horizontally on the antibiotic resistance-conferring Integrative and Conjugative Element (ICE) ICESp23FST81. This gene encodes a novel modular protein, ZomB, which has an N-terminal UvrD-like helicase domain followed by two Cas4-like domains with potent ATP-dependent nuclease activity. We found the regulatory effect of ZomB to be specific for the ply operon, potentially mediated by its high affinity for the BOX repeats encoded therein. Using a murine model of pneumococcal colonization, we further demonstrate that a ZomB mutant strain colonizes both the upper respiratory tract and lungs at higher levels when compared to the wild-type strain. While the antibiotic resistance-conferring aspects of ICESp23FST81 are often credited with contributing to the success of the S. pneumoniae lineages that acquire it, its ability to control the expression of a major virulence factor implicated in bacterial transmission is also likely to have played an important role.

Original publication

DOI

10.1099/mgen.0.000784

Type

Journal article

Journal

Microbial genomics

Publication Date

04/2022

Volume

8

Addresses

School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1TD, UK.

Keywords

Animals, Mice, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Bacterial Proteins, Streptolysins, Virulence Factors, Interspersed Repetitive Sequences, Genome-Wide Association Study