Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, a known pathogen causing periodontal disease and infective endocarditis, is a survivor in the periodontal pocket and blood stream; both environments contain serum as a nutrient source. To screen for unknown virulence factors associated with this microorganism, A. actinomycetemcomitans was grown in serumbased media to simulate its in vivo environment. Different strains of A. actinomycetemcomitans showed distinct growth phenotypes only in the presence of human serum, and they were grouped into high- and low-responder groups. High-responders comprised mainly serotype c strains, and showed an unusual growth phenomenon, featuring a second, rapid increase in turbidity after 9-h incubation that reached a final optical density 2- to 7-fold higher than low-responders. Upon further investigation, the second increase in turbidity was not caused by cell multiplication, but by cell death. Whole transcriptomic analysis via RNAseq identified 35 genes that were up-regulated by human serum, but not horse serum, in high-responders but not in low-responders, including prominently an alternative sigma factor rpoE (óE ). A lacZ reporter construct driven by the 132-bp rpoE promoter sequence of A. actinomycetemcomitans responded dramatically to human serum within 90 min of incubation only when the construct was carried by a high responder strain. The rpoE promoter is 100% identical among high- and low-responder strains. Proteomic investigation showed potential interactions between human serum protein, e.g. apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1) and A. actinomycetemcomitans. The data clearly indicated a different activation process for rpoE in high- versus low-responder strains. This differential human serum-specific activation of rpoE, a putative extra-cytoplasmic stress responder and global regulator, suggests distinct in vivo adaptations among different strains of A. actinomycetemcomitans.
Tang-Siegel, G., Bumgarner, R., Ruiz, T., Kittichotirat, W., Chen, W., & Chen, C. (2016). Human serum-specific activation of alternative sigma factors, the stress responders in aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. PLoS ONE, 11(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160018