Streptococcus mutans is a major pathobiont involved in the development of dental caries. Its ability to utilize numerous sugars and to effectively respond to environmental stress promotes S. mutans proliferation in oral biofilms. Because of their quick action and low energetic cost, non-coding small RNAs (sRNAs) represent an ideal mode of gene regulation in stress response networks, yet their roles in oral pathogens have remained largely unexplored. We identified 15 novel sRNAs in S. mutans and show that they respond to four stress-inducing conditions commonly encountered by the pathogen in human mouth: sugar-phosphate stress, hydrogen peroxide exposure, high temperature, and low pH. To better understand the role of sRNAs in S. mutans, we further explored the function of the novel sRNA, SmsR4. Our data demonstrate that SmsR4 regulates the EIIA component of the sorbitol phosphotransferase system, which transports and phosphorylates the sugar alcohol sorbitol. The fine-tuning of EIIA availability by SmsR4 likely promotes S. mutans growth while using sorbitol as the main carbon source. Our work lays a foundation for understanding the role of sRNAs in regulating gene expression in stress response networks in S. mutans and highlights the importance of the underexplored phenomenon of posttranscriptional gene regulation in oral bacteria.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.11.16.468913