Evolution, metabolism, and virulence of the oral microbiome
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The human microbiome has important roles in maintaining health, but dysbiosis of the microbiota can lead to disease. Polymicrobial interactions can result in synergy, producing disease that is worse than the sum of the respective single species infections. Despite this significant impact, synergy is understudied due to the complexity of polymicrobial interactions. Periodontitis is a microbiome-associated disease, and is one of the most common infectious diseases worldwide. Therefore, we have used periodontal disease as a model to study polymicrobial synergy. I have used two complementary approaches to study polymicrobial infections. The opportunistic periodontal pathogen Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans exhibits synergy with streptococci in model murine infections. Because polymicrobial interactions are dependent on organisms’ abilities to sense their environments, I have examined the genetic regulatory mechanisms used by A. actinomycetemcomitans to interact with its environment. Through Northern blot analyses and biochemical approaches, I show that A. actinomycetemcomitans uses non-coding RNAs to regulate amino acid transport. Taking a comparative genomics approach, I demonstrate that A. actinomycetemcomitans DNA uptake systems are evolutionarily linked to genome defense. To describe host-influenced changes in gene expression, I develop a new technique to transcriptionally profile A. actinomycetemcomitans in a murine abscess infection, thereby revealing the importance of specific fermentative and anaerobic respiratory genes for in vivo survival. The long-term goal is to use these studies as a basis to characterize genetic regulatory mechanisms mediating synergy in polymicrobial A. actinomycetemcomitans infections with streptococci and other oral microbes. As a second approach to study polymicrobial infections, I analyze gene expression of healthy and diseased human plaque communities from aggressive periodontitis patients. Profiling ribosome content of healthy and diseased communities, I show that disease communities adopt similar less diverse population structures distinct from healthy populations. In addition to changes in population composition, using community transcriptional profiling I show that a keystone species within diseased communities up-regulates expression of genes involved in making the oral inflammatory molecule butyrate. These studies demonstrate for the first time that microbiome based diseases are marked by gene expression changes in addition to compositional changes.