The survival of pathogens in the human body has been rigorously studied for well over a century. Bacteria are able to colonize, persist and thrive in vivo due to an array of capabilities. Most bacterial pathogenesis studies have focused on mono-culture infections;however, it is clear that many bacterial infections are not simply the result of colonization with a single species, but are instead a result of colonization with several. Microbes within polymicrobial infections often display synergistic interactions that result in enhanced colonization and persistence in the infection site, and the molecular processes controlling these synergistic interactions are not well defined. Our lab utilizes a two-species model system to study polymicrobial synergy. The system is composed of the opportunistic Gram-negative pathogen Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Aa) and the Gram-positive bacterium Streptococcus gordonii (Sg). Using this model system, we are testing the overriding hypothesis that bacteria within polymicrobial infections display defined responses to the primary metabolites produced by other members of the microbial community, and these responses are critical for establishing polymicrobial infections. We have primarily focused on elucidating the molecular responses of Aa to two primary metabolites produced by Sg, L-lactate and H2O2. These studies have uncovered novel Aa responses that not only affect how this bacterium interacts with Sg but also how it interacts with the host. The overall goals of this research plan are to 1) examine from a mechanistic standpoint, how polymicrobial interactions between oral bacteria impact community development, resistance to host innate immunity, and in vivo persistence, and 2) develop novel technologies for probing polymicrobial interactions. To this end, we have proposed experiments to (i) elucidate the molecular mechanism of Aa L-lactate preference and assess its importance in vivo, (ii) elucidate the mechanism of Aa protection from innate immunity during co-culture and assess its importance in vivo, (iii) characterize the impact of H2O2 and co-culture on biofilm dispersion.

Public Health Relevance

Most bacteria do not exist in nature as monocultures, but instead as complex communities in which interactions between bacterial species affect the fate of the individual as well as the community. The goal of this project is to examine interactions between two opportunistic pathogens of the human mouth and define how these interactions enhance resistance of these bacteria to killing by the immune system. This research has direct consequences for disease as the importance of polymicrobial interactions for pathogen survival in the human body has not been investigated in depth.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Oral, Dental and Craniofacial Sciences Study Section (ODCS)
Program Officer
Lunsford, Dwayne
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University of Texas Austin
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Stacy, Apollo; McNally, Luke; Darch, Sophie E et al. (2016) The biogeography of polymicrobial infection. Nat Rev Microbiol 14:93-105
Michie, Kelly L; Cornforth, Daniel M; Whiteley, Marvin (2016) Bacterial tweets and podcasts #signaling#eavesdropping#microbialfightclub. Mol Biochem Parasitol 208:41-8
Estrela, Sylvie; Whiteley, Marvin; Brown, Sam P (2015) The demographic determinants of human microbiome health. Trends Microbiol 23:134-41
Jorth, Peter; Turner, Keith H; Gumus, Pinar et al. (2014) Metatranscriptomics of the human oral microbiome during health and disease. MBio 5:e01012-14
Stacy, Apollo; Everett, Jake; Jorth, Peter et al. (2014) Bacterial fight-and-flight responses enhance virulence in a polymicrobial infection. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:7819-24
Murray, Justine L; Connell, Jodi L; Stacy, Apollo et al. (2014) Mechanisms of synergy in polymicrobial infections. J Microbiol 52:188-99
Wessel, Aimee K; Hmelo, Laura; Parsek, Matthew R et al. (2013) Going local: technologies for exploring bacterial microenvironments. Nat Rev Microbiol 11:337-48
Jorth, Peter; Trivedi, Urvish; Rumbaugh, Kendra et al. (2013) Probing bacterial metabolism during infection using high-resolution transcriptomics. J Bacteriol 195:4991-8
Stacy, Apollo R; Diggle, Stephen P; Whiteley, Marvin (2012) Rules of engagement: defining bacterial communication. Curr Opin Microbiol 15:155-61
Youle, Merry; Rohwer, Forest; Stacy, Apollo et al. (2012) The Microbial Olympics. Nat Rev Microbiol 10:583-8

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