Enterococcus faecalis, a common causative agent of hospital-acquired infections, is resistant to many known antibiotics. Its ability to acquire and transfer resistance genes and virulence determinants through conjugative plasmids poses a serious concern for public health. In some cases, induction of transfer of E. faecalis plasmids results from peptide pheromones produced by plasmid- free recipient cells, which are sensed by the plasmid-bearing donor cells. These plasmids generally encode an inhibitory peptide that competes with the pheromone and suppresses self-induction of donors. We recently demonstrated that the inhibitor peptide encoded on plasmid pCF10 is part of a unique quorum-sensing system in which it functions as a "self-sensing signal," reducing the response to the pheromone in a density-dependent fashion. Based on the similarities between regulatory features controlling conjugation in pAD1 and pAM373 and those controlling conjugation in pCF10, we hypothesized that these plasmids are likely to exhibit similar quorum-sensing behaviors. Experimental findings indicate that for both pAD1 and pAM373, high donor densities indeed resulted in decreased induction of the conjugation operon and reduced conjugation frequencies. This effect was restored by the addition of exogenous inhibitor, confirming that the inhibitor serves as an indicator for donor density. Donor density also affects cross-species conjugative plasmid transfer. Based on our experimental results, we propose models for induction and shutdown of the conjugation operon in pAD1 and pAM373.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work, including the efforts of Wei-Shou Hu, was funded by HHS | National Institutes of Health (NIH) (GM081888). This work, including the efforts of Gary M. Dunny, was funded by HHS | National Institutes of Health (NIH) (GM049530).