Open Access Open Badges Research article

Hyperosmotic response of streptococcus mutans: from microscopic physiology to transcriptomic profile

Chengcheng Liu1, Yulong Niu2, Xuedong Zhou1, Keke Zhang1, Lei Cheng1, Mingyun Li1, Yuqing Li1, Renke Wang1, Yi Yang2 and Xin Xu1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Oral Diseases, West China Hospital of Stomatology, Sichuan University, Chengdu, PR China

2 Key Lab of Bio-resources and Eco-environment of Ministry of Education, College of Life Sciences, Sichuan University, Chengdu, PR China

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:275  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-275

Published: 1 December 2013



Oral streptococci metabolize carbohydrate to produce organic acids, which not only decrease the environmental pH, but also increase osmolality of dental plaque fluid due to tooth demineralization and consequent calcium and phosphate accumulation. Despite these unfavorable environmental changes, the bacteria continue to thrive. The aim of this study was to obtain a global view on strategies taken by Streptococcus mutans to deal with physiologically relevant elevated osmolality, and perseveres within a cariogenic dental plaque.


We investigated phenotypic change of S. mutans biofilm upon hyperosmotic challenge. We found that the hyperosmotic condition was able to initiate S. mutans biofilm dispersal by reducing both microbial content and extracellular polysaccharides matrix. We then used whole-genome microarray with quantitative RT-PCR validation to systemically investigate the underlying molecular machineries of this bacterium in response to the hyperosmotic stimuli. Among those identified 40 deferentially regulated genes, down-regulation of gtfB and comC were believed to be responsible for the observed biofilm dispersal. Further analysis of microarray data showed significant up-regulation of genes and pathways involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Specific genes involved in heat shock response and acid tolerance were also upregulated, indicating potential cross-talk between hyperosmotic and other environmental stress.


Hyperosmotic condition induces significant stress response on S. mutans at both phenotypic and transcriptomic levels. In the meantime, it may take full advantage of these environmental stimuli to better fit the fluctuating environments within oral cavity, and thus emerges as numeric-predominant bacterium under cariogenic conditions.

Streptococcus mutans; Hyperosmotic condition; Transcriptional profile; Biofilm dispersal; Environmental fitness; Dental plaque