Streptococcus pneumoniae Senses a Human-like Sialic Acid Profile via the Response Regulator CiaR
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a human-adapted pathogen that encounters terminally sialylated glycoconjugates and free sialic acid (Sia) in the airways. Upon scavenging by the bacterial sialidase NanA, Sias serve as carbon sources for the bacteria. Unlike most animals in which cytidine-monophosphate-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase (CMAH) converts Sia N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) into N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), humans have an inactive CMAH, causing an absence of Neu5Gc and excess Neu5Ac. We find that pneumococcal challenge in Cmah(-/-) mice leads to heightened bacterial loads, virulence, and NanA expression. In vitro, NanA is upregulated in response to Neu5Ac compared with Neu5Gc, a process controlled by the two-component response regulator CiaR and requiring Sia uptake by the transporter SatABC. Additionally, compared with Neu5Gc, Neu5Ac increases pneumococcal resistance to antimicrobial reactive oxygen species in a CiaR-dependent manner. Thus, S. pneumoniae senses and responds to Neu5Ac, leading to CiaR activation and increased virulence and potentially explaining the greater susceptibility in humans.