The establishment and persistence of a microbe on a host surface will depend on its ability to compete with other species as well as members of the same species. Manipulations, such as antibiotics and vaccines, alter the dynamics of these relationships, sometimes with undesirable consequences. Recent introduction of a conjugate vaccine for Streptococcus pneumoniae has lowered the burden of carriage and disease by this leading pathogen for the included serotypes. However, the growing problem of replacement with non-vaccine serotypes shows that the vaccine has diminished the competitive selective pressure that had been suppressing these previously less common serotypes. Clinical experience, therefore, has revealed the importance of intraspecies competition for this species and the need to better understand factors affecting it in order to maintain or improve an otherwise successful prevention strategy. A mechanism that may underlie this intraspecies competition is based on the elaboration of pneumococcal bacteriocins (pneumocins). These small antimicrobial peptides expressed by the blp locus target members of the same species that do not produce a cognate immunity protein. In the mouse model of colonization, pneumocins dictate the outcome of competition between two isolates. We have identified isolates expressing broadly active pneumocins that inhibit all other pneumococci tested.
In Specific Aim #1, we will characterize the broadly acting pneumocins that contribute to intraspecies competition. Specifically, we will 1) identify the broadly acting pneumocins and the basis of immunity to these pneumocins, 2) determine the contribution of pneumocins and their immunity to competition among clinical isolates, and 3) test whether these pneumocins can be used to reduce pneumococcal colonization. We have also shown that isolates expressing the same pneumocin alleles and lacking direct bacterial-bacterial inhibition are still able to compete in vivo. Preliminary data, therefore, indicates that host factors can also dictate the outcome of competition. Thus, in Specific Aim #2 we will determine whether host innate immune responses and differential bacterial resistance to these responses contribute to intraspecies competition during colonization. We will focus on the major mechanisms of pneumococcal clearance, involving complement and phagocytes;and the major virulence factor and determinant of resistance to clearance, capsule type, to determine their role in competition. Defining these two non-mutually exclusive mechanisms of competition, involving the elaboration of anti-pneumococcal factors by competing pneumococci or by the host, will provide a molecular explanation for why some pneumococcal strains or types prevail.
The recent introduction of childhood vaccination against Streptococus pneumoniae has altered the spectrum of disease-causing strains and revealed the importance of the competitive balance for the ecology of this species and prevention of disease. The focus of this project is to define how competition occurs for this leading human pathogen. The project will 1) characterize the elaboration of bacterial factors called bacteriocins that target members of the same species and 2) define how this pathogen takes advantage of the host immune response to promote its competitive success.
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