Specific growth conditions induce a Streptococcus pneumoniae non-mucoidal, small colony variant and determine the outcome of its co-culture with Haemophilus influenzae

Alexandra Tikhomirova, Claudia Trappetti, Alistair J. Standish, Yiwen Zhou, James Breen, Stephen Pederson, Peter S. Zilm, James C. Paton, Stephen P. Kidd

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae are known aetiologic agents of chronic otitis media, frequently as a multispecies infection. In this study, we show that the outcome of H. influenzae/S. pneumoniae interactions is dependent on the nutrient source. In continuous culture containing chemically defined media with lactose, S. pneumoniae was non-viable in mono-culture, and in co-culture remained non-viable until 288 h. With glucose, S. pneumoniae became non-viable in mono-culture, but uniquely existed in 3 distinct states in co-culture: parental cells (until 24 h), a dormant state until 336 h and its re-emergence as a non-mucoidal, small colony variant (SCV). The S. pneumoniae SCV was stable and whole genome sequencing showed three major single nucleotide polymorphisms in the SCV cells—cap3A (capsule biosynthesis pathway), fpg (DNA glycosylase of the DNA repair mechanism) and glutamate-5-kinase. Previously, fpg mutants have shown increased mutator rates, permitting bacterial survival against host-generated stresses. Transcriptomics showed these SCV cells up-regulated sugar transporters and toxin/antitoxin systems. An animal model revealed a reduced survival in the lungs and ear by SCV cells. This is the first study documenting the effect of carbon source and the development of a distinct S. pneumoniae cell type during H. influenzae/S. pneumoniae interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfty074
JournalPathogens and Disease
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial pathogenesis
  • Co-infection
  • Dormant
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Molecular adaptation
  • Small colony variants
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

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