Pneumococcal capsular phase shift is associated with invasion into cell-to-cell junctions and is inhibited by macrolides

Academic Article


  • Streptococcus pneumoniae frequently colonizes the human nasopharynx beginning in the early childhood. Pneumococci exhibit a spontaneous and reversible phase shift between opaque and transparent allowing them to adapt to different environments. This is the first report of the dynamics of pneumococcal phase shift during the course of adhesion and subsequent invasion into epithelial cell monolayers by bacteria-cell co-culture assay with a time-lapse microscopy. The invasion of an inoculum between the human epithelial cells was dependent on the transparent phenotype, but successful replication of the cells within the cell layer was strongly associated with its transformation into an opaque-like variant. We also observed that sub-MIC levels of clarithromycin inhibited the spontaneous pneumococcal phase shift. Our results show that the pneumococcus can modulate its fitness in part because it can switch phenotype in response to the environment during not only inflammation but also during the establishment of colonization. Our current findings provide a more in depth understanding not only of how the pneumococcal phase shift acts to protect pneumococci from commensal flora and the immune status of the host, but also illustrate a novel strategy for antimicrobial treatments to interfere with pneumococcal colonization.
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    Author List

  • Takeda S; Kono M; Sugita G; Arai J; Briles DE; Hotomi M
  • Volume

  • 153