Copper intoxication in group b Streptococcus triggers transcriptional activation of the cop operon that contributes to enhanced virulence during acute infection

Matthew J. Sullivan, Kelvin G. K. Goh, Dean Gosling, Lahiru Katupitiya, Glen C. Ulett

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Bacteria can utilize copper (Cu) as a trace element to support cellular processes; however, excess Cu can intoxicate bacteria. Here, we characterize the cop operon in group B streptococcus (GBS) and establish its role in evasion of Cu intoxication and the response to Cu stress on virulence. Growth of a GBS mutant deficient in the copA Cu exporter was severely compromised under Cu stress conditions. GBS survival of Cu stress reflected a mechanism of CopY derepression of the CopA efflux system. However, neither mutant was attenuated for intracellular survival in macrophages. Analysis of global transcriptional responses to Cu by RNA sequencing (RNAseq) revealed a stress signature encompassing homeostasis of multiple metals. Genes induced by Cu stress included putative metal transporters for manganese import, whereas a system for iron export was repressed. In addition, copA promoted the ability of GBS to colonize the blood, liver, and spleen of mice following disseminated infection. Together, these findings show that GBS copA mediates resistance to Cu intoxication via regulation by the Cu-sensing transcriptional repressor copY. Cu stress responses in GBS reflect a transcriptional signature that heightens virulence and represents an important part of the bacterium's ability to survive in different environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00315-21
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number19
Early online date8 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial pathogenesis
  • CopA
  • Copper efflux
  • Group B streptococcus
  • Metal ions
  • Metallobiology

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