Streptococcus mutans, a Gram-positive bacterium, is considered to be a major etiologic agent of human dental caries and reported to form biofilms known as dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This organism is also known to possess a large number of transport proteins in the cell membrane for export and import of molecules. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for Grampositive bacteria, though alternative sources such as ammonium can also be utilized. In order to obtain nitrogen for macromolecular synthesis, nitrogen-containing compounds must be transported into the cell. However, the ammonium transporter in S. mutans remains to be characterized. The present study focused on characterizing the ammonium transporter gene of S. mutans and its operon, while related regulatory genes were also analyzed. The SMU.1658 gene corresponding to nrgA in S. mutans is homologous to the ammonium transporter gene in Bacillus subtilis and SMU.1657, located upstream of the nrgA gene and predicted to be glnB, is a member of the PII protein family. Using a nrgA-deficient mutant strain (NRGD), we examined bacterial growth in the presence of ammonium, calcium chloride, and manganese sulfate. Fluorescent efflux assays were also performed to reveal export molecules associated with the ammonium transporter. The growth rate of NRGD was lower, while its fluorescent intensity was much higher as compared to the parental strain. In addition, confocal laser scanning microscopy revealed that the structure of biofilms formed by NRGD was drastically different than that of the parental strain. Furthermore, transcriptional analysis showed that the nrgA gene was cotranscribed with the glnB gene. These results suggest that the nrgA gene in S. mutans is essential for export of molecules and biofilm formation.
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