Mutations in Pneumococcal cpsE Generated via In Vitro Serial Passaging Reveal a Potential Mechanism of Reduced Encapsulation Utilized by a Conjunctival Isolate.

Date Published:

2015 May 15


UNLABELLED: The polysaccharide capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae is required for nasopharyngeal colonization and for invasive disease in the lungs, blood, and meninges. In contrast, the vast majority of conjunctival isolates are acapsular. The first serotype-specific gene in the capsule operon, cpsE, encodes the initiating glycosyltransferase and is one of the few serotype-specific genes that can tolerate null mutations. This report characterizes a spontaneously arising TIGR4 mutant exhibiting a reduced capsule, caused by a 6-nucleotide duplication in cpsE which results in duplication of Ala and Ile at positions 45 and 46. This strain (AI45dup) possessed more exposed phosphorylcholine and was hypersusceptible to C3 complement deposition compared to the wild type. Accordingly, the mutant was significantly better at forming abiotic biofilms and binding epithelial cells in vitro but was avirulent in a sepsis model. In vitro serial passaging of the wild-type strain failed to reproduce the AI45dup mutation but instead led to a variety of mutants with reduced capsule harboring single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in cpsE. A single passage in the sepsis model after high-dose inoculation readily yielded revertants of AI45dup with restored wild-type capsule level, but the majority of SNP alleles of cpsE could not revert, suppress, or bypass. Analysis of cpsE in conjunctival isolates revealed a strain with a single missense mutation at amino acid position 377, which was responsible for reduced encapsulation. This study supports the hypothesis that spontaneous, nonreverting mutations in cpsE serve as a form of adaptive mutation by providing a selective advantage to S. pneumoniae in niches where expression of capsule is detrimental. IMPORTANCE: While the capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae is required for colonization and invasive disease, most conjunctival isolates are acapsular by virtue of deletion of the entire capsular operon. We show that spontaneous acapsular mutants isolated in vitro harbor mostly nonrevertible single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) null mutations in cpsE, encoding the initiating glycosyltransferase. From a small collection of acapsular conjunctival isolates, we identified one strain with a complete capsular operon but containing a SNP in cpsE that we show is responsible for the acapsular phenotype. We propose that acapsular conjunctival isolates may arise initially from such nonreverting SNP null mutations in cpsE, which can be followed later by deletion of portions or all of the cps operon.

Last updated on 11/19/2018