Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus are successful as commensal organisms or pathogens in part because they adapt rapidly to selective pressures imparted by the human host. Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) play a central role in this adaptation process and are a means to transfer genetic information (DNA) among and within bacterial species. Importantly, MGEs encode putative virulence factors and molecules that confer resistance to antibiotics, including the gene that confers resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics in methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Inasmuch as MRSA infections are a significant problem worldwide and continue to emerge in epidemic waves, there has been significant effort to improve diagnostic assays and to develop new antimicrobial agents for treatment of disease. Our understanding of S. aureus MGEs and the molecules they encode has played an important role toward these ends and has provided detailed insight into the evolution of antimicrobial resistance mechanisms and virulence.
Bacterial signaling systems are prime drug targets for combating the global health threat of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections including those caused by Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is the primary cause of acute bacterial skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) and the quorum sensing operon agr is causally associated with these. Whether efficacious chemical inhibitors of agr signaling can be developed that promote host defense against SSTIs while sparing the normal microbiota of the skin is unknown. In a high throughput screen, we identified a small molecule inhibitor (SMI), savirin (S. aureus virulence inhibitor) that disrupted agr-mediated quorum sensing in this pathogen but not in the important skin commensal Staphylococcus epidermidis. Mechanistic studies employing electrophoretic mobility shift assays and a novel AgrA activation reporter strain revealed the transcriptional regulator AgrA as the target of inhibition within the pathogen, preventing virulence gene upregulation. Consistent with its minimal impact on exponential phase growth, including skin microbiota members, savirin did not provoke stress responses or membrane dysfunction induced by conventional antibiotics as determined by transcriptional profiling and membrane potential and integrity studies. Importantly, savirin was efficacious in two murine skin infection models, abating tissue injury and selectively promoting clearance of agr+ but not Δagr bacteria when administered at the time of infection or delayed until maximal abscess development. The mechanism of enhanced host defense involved in part enhanced intracellular killing of agr+ but not Δagr in macrophages and by low pH. Notably, resistance or tolerance to savirin inhibition of agr was not observed after multiple passages either in vivo or in vitro where under the same conditions resistance to growth inhibition was induced after passage with conventional antibiotics. Therefore, chemical inhibitors can selectively target AgrA in S. aureus to promote host defense while sparing agr signaling in S. epidermidis and limiting resistance development.
Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections are frequently associated with strains harboring genes encoding Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL). The role of PVL in the success of the epidemic CA-MRSA strain USA300 remains unknown. Here we developed a skin and soft tissue infection model in rabbits to test the hypothesis that PVL contributes to USA300 pathogenesis and compare it with well-established virulence determinants: alpha-hemolysin (Hla), phenol-soluble modulin-alpha peptides (PSMα), and accessory gene regulator (Agr). The data indicate that Hla, PSMα, and Agr contribute to the pathogenesis of USA300 skin infections in rabbits, whereas a role for PVL could not be detected.
Staphylococcus aureus is a leading cause of bloodstream infections worldwide. In the United States, many of these infections are caused by a strain known as USA300. Although progress has been made, our understanding of the S. aureus molecules that promote survival in human blood and ultimately facilitate metastases is incomplete. To that end, we analyzed the USA300 transcriptome during culture in human blood, human serum, and trypticase soy broth (TSB), a standard laboratory culture media. Notably, genes encoding several cytolytic toxins were up-regulated in human blood over time, and hlgA, hlgB, and hlgC (encoding gamma-hemolysin subunits HlgA, HlgB, and HlgC) were among the most highly up-regulated genes at all time points. Compared to culture supernatants from a wild-type USA300 strain (LAC), those derived from an isogenic hlgABC-deletion strain (LACΔhlgABC) had significantly reduced capacity to form pores in human neutrophils and ultimately cause neutrophil lysis. Moreover, LACΔhlgABC had modestly reduced ability to cause mortality in a mouse bacteremia model. On the other hand, wild-type and LACΔhlgABC strains caused virtually identical abscesses in a mouse skin infection model, and bacterial survival and neutrophil lysis after phagocytosis in vitro was similar between these strains. Comparison of the cytolytic capacity of culture supernatants from wild-type and isogenic deletion strains lacking hlgABC, lukS/F-PV (encoding PVL), and/or lukDE revealed functional redundancy among two-component leukotoxins in vitro. These findings, along with a requirement of specific growth conditions for leukotoxin expression, may explain the apparent limited contribution of any single two-component leukotoxin to USA300 immune evasion and virulence.
Staphylococcus aureus is a prominent human pathogen and leading cause of bacterial infection in hospitals and the community. Community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA) strains such as USA300 are highly virulent and, unlike hospital strains, often cause disease in otherwise healthy individuals. The enhanced virulence of CA-MRSA is based in part on increased ability to produce high levels of secreted molecules that facilitate evasion of the innate immune response. Although progress has been made, the factors that contribute to CA-MRSA virulence are incompletely defined. We analyzed the cell surface proteome (surfome) of USA300 strain LAC to better understand extracellular factors that contribute to the enhanced virulence phenotype. A total of 113 identified proteins were associated with the surface of USA300 during the late-exponential phase of growth in vitro. Protein A was the most abundant surface molecule of USA300, as indicated by combined Mascot score following analysis of peptides by tandem mass spectrometry. Unexpectedly, we identified a previously uncharacterized two-component leukotoxin–herein named LukS-H and LukF-G (LukGH)-as two of the most abundant surface-associated proteins of USA300. Rabbit antibody specific for LukG indicated it was also freely secreted by USA300 into culture media. We used wild-type and isogenic lukGH deletion strains of USA300 in combination with human PMN pore formation and lysis assays to identify this molecule as a leukotoxin. Moreover, LukGH synergized with PVL to enhance lysis of human PMNs in vitro, and contributed to lysis of PMNs after phagocytosis. We conclude LukGH is a novel two-component leukotoxin with cytolytic activity toward neutrophils, and thus potentially contributes to S. aureus virulence.
Staphylococcus aureus causes many types of human infections and syndromes-most notably skin and soft tissue infections. Abscesses are a frequent manifestation of S. aureus skin and soft tissue infections and are formed, in part, to contain the nidus of infection. Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (neutrophils) are the primary cellular host defense against S. aureus infections and a major component of S. aureus abscesses. These host cells contain and produce many antimicrobial agents that are effective at killing bacteria, but can also cause non-specific damage to host tissues and contribute to the formation of abscesses. By comparison, S. aureus produces several molecules that also contribute to the formation of abscesses. Such molecules include those that recruit neutrophils, cause host cell lysis, and are involved in the formation of the fibrin capsule surrounding the abscess. Herein, we review our current knowledge of the mechanisms and processes underlying the formation of S. aureus abscesses, including the involvement of polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and provide a brief overview of therapeutic approaches.
Multiple-locus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis (MLVA), a new PCR-based method of typing Staphylococcus aureus, was compared to pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), spa typing, and multilocus sequence typing (MLST) on a group of 59 S. aureus (mostly methicillin-resistant) clinical isolates. The aim of the study was to establish possible criteria of clustering MLVA patterns and to check concordance levels between the results produced by MLVA and the three other typing methods. As in our earlier study, MLVA turned out to have discriminatory power similar to that of PFGE. Comparison of data obtained by the two approaches allowed us to propose a 70% or ca. 80% cutoff value of the similarity between two MLVA patterns, depending on a cutoff level applied to interpret the PFGE results, 75% or ca. 90%, respectively. The cutoff values corresponded to the difference of up to six or four bands, respectively, among maximum 14 bands in total produced by two isolates in the analysis. The MLVA clusters matched well those obtained by PFGE, and they were also consistent in general with clusters generated by spa typing and MLST, these latter methods characterized lower resolution. Our results suggest that MLVA may be reliable in shorter-term S. aureus epidemiological studies, including analyses of outbreaks and hospital-to-hospital strain transmission events. Well-known advantages of typing methods based on PCR (low cost, short time, and easiness of performance) make MLVA a method that may be useful in a variety of laboratories, including those performing routine microbiological analyses within medical centers.
Neutrophils are an important component of the innate immune system and provide a front line of defense against bacterial infection. Although most bacteria are killed readily by neutrophils, some bacterial pathogens have the capacity to circumvent destruction by these host leukocytes. The ability of bacterial pathogens to avoid killing by neutrophils often involves multiple attributes or characteristics, including the production of virulence molecules. These molecules are diverse in composition and function, and collectively have the potential to alter or inhibit neutrophil recruitment, phagocytosis, bactericidal activity, and/or apoptosis. Here, we review the ability of bacteria to target these processes.
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