Identification of a functional capsule locus in Streptococcus mitis


Håkon Valen Rukke, Department of Oral Biology, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Oslo, PO Box 1052, Blindern, N0316 Oslo, Norway Tel.: +47 2284 0366; fax: +47 2284 0302; E-mail:


The polysaccharide capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae is a hallmark for virulence in humans. In its close relative Streptococcus mitis, a common human commensal, analysis of the sequenced genomes of six strains revealed the presence of a putative capsule locus in four of them. We constructed an isogenic S. mitis mutant from the type strain that lacked the 19 open reading frames in the capsule locus (Δcps mutant), using a deletion strategy similar to previous capsule functional studies in S. pneumoniae. Transmission electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy revealed a capsule-like structure in the S. mitis type strain that was absent or reduced in the Δcps mutant. Since S. mitis are predominant oral colonizers of tooth surfaces, we addressed the relevance of the capsule locus for the S. mitis overall surface properties, autoaggregation and biofilm formation. The capsule deletion resulted in a mutant with approximately two-fold increase in hydrophobicity. Binding to the Stains-all cationic dye was reduced by 40%, suggesting a reduction in the overall negative surface charge of the mutant. The mutant exhibited also increased autoaggregation in coaggregation buffer, and up to six-fold increase in biofilm levels. The results suggested that the capsule locus is associated with production of a capsule-like structure in S. mitis and indicated that the S. mitis capsule-like structure may confer surface attributes similar to those associated with the capsule in S. pneumoniae.