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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The dissemination of C10 cysteine protease genes in Bacteroides fragilis by mobile genetic elements

Roibeard F Thornton12, Todd F Kagawa12, Paul W O'Toole3 and Jakki C Cooney12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Life Sciences, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

2 Materials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

3 Department of Microbiology, & Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:122  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-122

Published: 23 April 2010



The C10 family of cysteine proteases includes enzymes that contribute to the virulence of bacterial pathogens, such as SpeB in Streptococcus pyogenes. The presence of homologues of cysteine protease genes in human commensal organisms has not been examined. Bacteroides fragilis is a member of the dominant Bacteroidetes phylum of the human intestinal microbiota, and is a significant opportunistic pathogen.


Four homologues of the streptococcal virulence factor SpeB were identified in the B. fragilis genome. These four protease genes, two were directly contiguous to open reading frames predicted to encode staphostatin-like inhibitors, with which the protease genes were co-transcribed. Two of these protease genes are unique to B. fragilis 638R and are associated with two large genomic insertions. Gene annotation indicated that one of these insertions was a conjugative Tn-like element and the other was a prophage-like element, which was shown to be capable of excision. Homologues of the B. fragilis C10 protease genes were present in a panel of clinical isolates, and in DNA extracted from normal human faecal microbiota.


This study suggests a mechanism for the evolution and dissemination of an important class of protease in major members of the normal human microbiota.