Tannerella forsythia is an anaerobic, fusiform Gram-negative oral pathogen strongly associated with periodontitis, a multibacterial inflammatory disease that leads to the destruction of the teeth-supporting tissue, ultimately causing tooth loss. To survive in the oral habitat, T. forsythia depends on cohabiting bacteria for the provision of nutrients. For axenic growth under laboratory conditions, it specifically relies on the external supply of N-acetylmuramic acid (MurNAc), which is an essential constituent of the peptidoglycan (PGN) of bacterial cell walls. T. forsythia comprises a typical Gram-negative PGN; however, as evidenced by genome sequence analysis, the organism lacks common enzymes required for the de novo synthesis of precursors of PGN, which rationalizes its MurNAc auxotrophy. Only recently insights were obtained into how T. forsythia gains access to MurNAc in its oral habitat, enabling synthesis of the own PGN cell wall. This report summarizes T. forsythia’s strategies to survive in the oral habitat by means of PGN salvage pathways, including recovery of exogenous MurNAc and PGN-derived fragments but also polymeric PGN, which are all derived from cohabiting bacteria either via cell wall turnover or decay of cells. Salvage of polymeric PGN presumably requires the removal of peptides from PGN by an unknown amidase, concomitantly with the translocation of the polymer across the outer membrane. Two recently identified exo-lytic N-acetylmuramidases (Tf_NamZ1 and Tf_NamZ2) specifically cleave the peptide-free, exogenous (nutrition source) PGN in the periplasm and release the MurNAc and disaccharide substrates for the transporters Tf_MurT and Tf_AmpG, respectively, whereas the peptide-containing, endogenous (the self-cell wall) PGN stays unattached. This review also outlines how T. forsythia synthesises the PGN precursors UDP-MurNAc and UDP-N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc), involving homologs of the Pseudomonas sp. recycling enzymes AmgK/MurU and a monofunctional uridylyl transferase (named Tf_GlmU*), respectively.
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by S. Karger AG, Basel.