Mechanistic features of the enterococcal pCF10 sex pheromone response and the biology of Enterococcus faecalis in its natural habitat

Rebecca J. Breuer, Helmut Hirt, Gary M. Dunny

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Conjugative transfer of plasmids in enterococci is promoted by intercellular communication using peptide pheromones. The regulatory mechanisms that control transfer have been extensively studied in vitro. However, the complicated systems that regulate the spread of these plasmids did not evolve in the laboratory test tube, and remarkably little is known about this form of signaling in the intestinal tract, the primary niche of these organisms. Because the evolution of Enterococcus faecalis strains and their coresident pheromone-inducible plasmids, such as pCF10, have occurred in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it is important to consider the functions controlled by pheromones in light of this ecology. This review summarizes our current understanding of the pCF10- encoded pheromone response. We consider how selective pressures in the natural environment may have selected for the complex and very tightly regulated systems controlling conjugation, and we pay special attention to the ecology of enterococci and the pCF10 plasmid as a gut commensal. We summarize the results of recent studies of the pheromone response at the single-cell level, as well as those of the first experiments demonstrating a role for pheromone signaling in plasmid transfer and in GI tract competitive fitness. These results will serve as a foundation for further in vivo studies that could lead to novel interventions to reduce opportunistic infections and the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00733-17
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge Aaron Barnes for provision of the SEM micrograph in Fig. 5C. This work, was supported by HHS National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants AI122742 and GM118079 to G.M.D. R.J.B. was supported in part by a predoctoral traineeship under T32-GM008347

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Society for Microbiology.


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Intestinal microbiota
  • Nosocomial infections


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