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Transcriptional analysis of mutacin I (mutA) gene expression in planktonic and biofilm cells of Streptococcus mutans using fluorescent protein and glucuronidase reporters


Fengxia Qi, Department of Oral Biology and Medicine, UCLA School of Dentistry, P.O.Box 951668, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1668, USA
Tel.: + 1 310 267 2767; fax: + 1 310 794 7109;


Streptococcus mutans is implicated as the primary pathogen involved in the development of dental caries. The production of specific bacteriocins (called mutacins) by S. mutans is one of the major virulence factors which facilitate the dominance of the bacterium within dental plaque. While much has been revealed about the biochemical structures of mutacins, little is known about the expression and regulation of mutacin genes, largely due to the lack of proper methods to monitor mutacin gene expression, especially under biofilm conditions. In this study, a set of reporter systems with the green fluorescent protein (gfp), the monomeric red fluorescent protein (mrfp1), and the glucuronidase (gusA) are introduced to S. mutans to study the transcriptional activities of the mutacin I gene (mutA). Although the mutA-reporter fusions are in single copy on the chromosome, these reporter systems display strong signals that allow us to effectively monitor mutA gene expression in S. mutans. Using these reporter systems, we show that mutA is expressed in both planktonic and biofilm cells, even though mutacin activities are normally detected only in biofilm cells. Furthermore, we confirm that mutR, the gene upstream of the mutacin operon, is required for mutacin I gene expression. The success of this study validates the feasibility of using these reporter systems to study gene expression and regulation in S. mutans.