Nobbs, Angela H.; Lamont, Richard J.; Jenkinson, Howard F.
Summary: Streptococci readily colonize mucosal tissues in the nasopharynx; the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts; and the skin. Each ecological niche presents a series of challenges to successful colonization with which streptococci have to contend. Some species exist in equilibrium with their host, neither stimulating nor submitting to immune defenses mounted against them. Most are either opportunistic or true pathogens responsible for diseases such as pharyngitis, tooth decay, necrotizing fasciitis, infective endocarditis, and meningitis. Part of the success of streptococci as colonizers is attributable to the spectrum of proteins expressed on their surfaces. Adhesins enable interactions with salivary, serum, and extracellular matrix components; host cells; and other microbes. This is the essential first step to colonization, the development of complex communities, and possible invasion of host tissues. The majority of streptococcal adhesins are anchored to the cell wall via a C-terminal LPxTz motif. Other proteins may be surface anchored through N-terminal lipid modifications, while the mechanism of cell wall associations for others remains unclear. Collectively, these surface-bound proteins provide Streptococcus species with a "coat of many colors," enabling multiple intimate contacts and interplays between the bacterial cell and the host. In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated direct roles for many streptococcal adhesins as colonization or virulence factors, making them attractive targets for therapeutic and preventive strategies against streptococcal infections. There is, therefore, much focus on applying increasingly advanced molecular techniques to determine the precise structures and functions of these proteins, and their regulatory pathways, so that more targeted approaches can be developed.