Adaptation to the environment: Streptococcus pneumoniae, a paradigm for recombination-mediated genetic plasticity?

Authors

  • Jean-Pierre Claverys,

    1. Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire CNRS-UPR 9007, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex, France.
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  • Marc Prudhomme,

    1. Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire CNRS-UPR 9007, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex, France.
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  • Isabelle Mortier-Barrière,

    1. Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire CNRS-UPR 9007, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex, France.
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  • Bernard Martin

    1. Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire CNRS-UPR 9007, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cedex, France.
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Jean-Pierre Claverys. E-mail claverys@ibcg.biotoul.fr; Tel. (+33) 561 33 59 11; Fax (+33) 561 33 58 86.

Abstract

Genetic plasticity plays a central role in the biology of the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. This is illustrated by the existence of at least 90 different capsular types (the polysaccharide capsule has an essential antiphagocytic function) as well as by the rapid emergence of penicillin-resistant (PenR) pneumococcal isolates. Natural genetic transformation is believed to be essential for this genetic plasticity; capsular types can be switched by intraspecies transformation, whereas interspecies transformation is responsible for the appearance, in the PenR isolates, of mosaic pbp genes, which encode proteins with reduced affinity for penicillin. Data on the regulation of competence for transformation in S. pneumoniae, on the control of intra- and interspecies genetic exchange and on the shuffling and capture of exogenous sequences during transformation are reviewed. Possible links between transformation and changes in environmental conditions are discussed, and the adaptive ‘strategy’ deduced for S. pneumoniae is compared with that of Escherichia coli.

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