Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Dr. Todd Kitten

Second Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Cornelissen

Third Advisor

Dr. Darrell Peterson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Ping Xu

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Heather Lucas


Streptococcus sanguinis, an abundant and benign inhabitant of the oral cavity, is an important etiologic agent of infective endocarditis, particularly in people with pre-disposing cardiac valvular damage. Although commonly isolated from patients with IE, little is known about the factors that make any particular S. sanguinis isolate more virulent than another or, indeed, whether significant differences in virulence exist among isolates. To investigate the virulence of multiple isolates, a variation of the Bar-seq (barcode sequencing) method was employed. A conserved chromosomal site was identified for subsequent insertion of a barcode identifier, unique for each strain. Barcode insertion did not affect growth in vitro or in a rabbit model of endocarditis. Pooling of these strains and inoculation into rabbits demonstrated that all strains were capable of causing disease; however, virulence varied widely among strains. Genomic comparisons of the more virulent strains versus less virulent strains failed to conclusively identify any single gene responsible for virulence. Given this result, we continued our examination of the manganese transport system SsaACB, which is present in every strain of S. sanguinis examined. Although its contribution to virulence has not been confirmed in any strain other than SK36, it has been shown to be required for virulence in multiple species of streptococci, making it a candidate for emerging targeted therapies. In S. sanguinis strain SK36, previous studies have confirmed that loss of the manganese transport protein SsaB is tantamount to loss of virulence. Moreover, ssaB-deficient mutants are deficient for serum growth—a phenotype we have previously found to be associated with virulence. Our in vitro studies of manganese transporter-deficient strain SK36 supported this, but also revealed the emergence of suppressor mutants. In each suppressor mutant that was isolated, mutations were identified that mapped to a common gene, SSA_0696. Deletion of SSA_0696 resulted in restored in vitro growth in the ssaACB-deficient background, unearthing a novel mechanism for bacterial growth under manganese limitation. Fortunately, the suppressor mutant phenotype was not maintained in vivo; however, the combined results of these experiments suggest the efficacy of future therapeutics may require consideration of virulence at the species level and the incorporation of multiple targets.


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