Streptococcus pneumoniae undergoes spontaneous phase variation resulting in opaque and transparent colony forms. Differences in colony opacity correlate with differences in virulence: the transparent variants are more capable of colonizing the nasopharynx, whereas the opaque variants show increased virulence during systemic infections. To gain insight into the pathogenesis of pneumococcal disease at the molecular level, protein expression patterns of the phenotypic variants of two pneumococcal strains were compared by high-resolution two-dimensional protein electrophoresis. In comparison with transparent variants, the opaque variants reduced the expression of two proteins and overexpressed one protein. The proteins were identified by mass spectrometric analysis. The protein overexpressed in the opaque phenotype revealed significant homology to elongation factor Ts of Helicobacter pylori. One of the two proteins that were underexpressed in the opaque variants revealed significant homology to the proteinase maturation protein PrtM of Lactocobacillus paracasei, a member of the family of peptidyl-prolyl cis/trans isomerases. A consensus lipoprotein signal sequence suggests that the putative proteinase maturation protein A, designated PpmA, is located at the surface of the pneumococcus and may play a role in the maturation of surface or secreted proteins. The second underexpressed protein was identified as pyruvate oxidase, SpxB. The lower SpxB expression in opaque variants most probably explains the reduced production of hydrogen peroxide, a reaction product of SpxB, in this variant. Since a spxB-defective pneumococcal mutant has decreased ability to colonize the nasopharynx (B. Spellerberg, D. R. Cundell, J. Sandros, B. J. Pearce, I. Idanpaan-Heikkila, C. Rosenow, and H. R. Masure, 1996. Mol. Microbiol. 19:803-813, 1996), our data suggest that SpxB plays an important role in enhancing the ability of transparent variants to efficiently colonize the nasopharynx.

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Infection and Immunity
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Overweg, K., Pericone, C. D., Verhoef, G. G., Weiser, J. N., Meiring, H. D., de Jong, A. P., … Hermans, P. (2000). Differential protein expression in phenotypic variants of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Infection and Immunity. Retrieved from