Two-component systems (TCSs) are highly conserved across bacteria and are used to rapidly sense and respond to changing environmental conditions. The human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus uses the S. aureus exoprotein expression (sae) TCS to sense host signals and activate transcription of virulence factors essential to pathogenesis. Despite its importance, the mechanism by which the histidine kinase SaeS recognizes specific host stimuli is unknown. After mutagenizing the predicted extracellular loop of SaeS, we discovered one methionine residue (M31) was essential for the ability of S. aureus to transcribe sae target genes, including hla, lukAB/lukGH, and hlgA. This single M31A mutation also significantly reduced cytotoxicity in human neutrophils to levels observed in cells following interaction with ?saeS. Another important discovery was that mutation of two aromatic anchor residues (W32A and F33A) disrupted the normal basal signaling of SaeS in the absence of inducing signals, yet both mutant kinases had appropriate activation of effector genes following exposure to neutrophils. Although the transcriptional profile of aromatic mutation W32A was consistent with that of WT in response to human ?-defensin 1, mutant kinase F33A did not properly transcribe the ?-toxin genes in response to this stimulus. Taken together, our results provide molecular evidence for how SaeS recognizes host signals and triggers activation of select virulence factors to facilitate evasion of innate immunity. These findings have important implications for signal transduction in prokaryotes and eukaryotes due to conservation of aromatic anchor residues across both of these domains and the important role they play in sensor protein structure and function.
Staphylococcus aureus is a prominent bacterial pathogen that causes a diverse range of acute and chronic infections. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the secreted nuclease (Nuc) enzyme is a virulence factor in multiple models of infection, and in vivo expression of nuc has facilitated the development of an infection imaging approach based on Nuc-activatable probes. Interestingly, S. aureus strains encode a second nuclease (Nuc2) that has received limited attention. With the growing interest in bacterial nucleases, we sought to characterize Nuc2 in more detail through localization, expression, and biochemical studies. Fluorescence microscopy and alkaline phosphatase localization approaches using Nuc2-GFP and Nuc2-PhoA fusions, respectively, demonstrated that Nuc2 is membrane bound with the C-terminus facing the extracellular environment, indicating it is a signal-anchored Type II membrane protein. Nuc2 enzyme activity was detectable on the S. aureus cell surface using a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) assay, and in time courses, both nuc2 transcription and enzyme activity peaked in early logarithmic growth and declined in stationary phase. Using a mouse model of S. aureus pyomyositis, Nuc2 activity was detected with activatable probes in vivo in nuc mutant strains, demonstrating that Nuc2 is produced during infections. To assess Nuc2 biochemical properties, the protein was purified and found to cleave both single- and double-stranded DNA, and it exhibited thermostability and calcium dependence, paralleling the properties of Nuc. Purified Nuc2 prevented biofilm formation in vitro and modestly decreased biomass in dispersal experiments. Altogether, our findings confirm that S. aureus encodes a second, surface-attached and functional DNase that is expressed during infections and displays similar biochemical properties to the secreted Nuc enzyme.
Staphylococcus aureus is a prominent bacterial pathogen that is known to agglutinate in the presence of human plasma to form stable clumps. There is increasing evidence that agglutination aids S. aureus pathogenesis, but the mechanisms of this process remain to be fully elucidated. To better define this process, we developed both tube based and flow cytometry methods to monitor clumping in the presence of extracellular matrix proteins. We discovered that the ArlRS two-component system regulates the agglutination mechanism during exposure to human plasma or fibrinogen. Using divergent S. aureus strains, we demonstrated that arlRS mutants are unable to agglutinate, and this phenotype can be complemented. We found that the ebh gene, encoding the Giant Staphylococcal Surface Protein (GSSP), was up-regulated in an arlRS mutant. By introducing an ebh complete deletion into an arlRS mutant, agglutination was restored. To assess whether GSSP is the primary effector, a constitutive promoter was inserted upstream of the ebh gene on the chromosome in a wildtype strain, which prevented clump formation and demonstrated that GSSP has a negative impact on the agglutination mechanism. Due to the parallels of agglutination with infective endocarditis development, we assessed the phenotype of an arlRS mutant in a rabbit combined model of sepsis and endocarditis. In this model the arlRS mutant displayed a large defect in vegetation formation and pathogenesis, and this phenotype was partially restored by removing GSSP. Altogether, we have discovered that the ArlRS system controls a novel mechanism through which S. aureus regulates agglutination and pathogenesis.
Staphylococcus aureus is a known cause of chronic biofilm infections that can reside on medical implants or host tissue. Recent studies have demonstrated an important role for proteinaceous material in the biofilm structure. The S. aureus genome encodes many secreted proteases, and there is growing evidence that these enzymes have self-cleavage properties that alter biofilm integrity. However, the specific contribution of each protease and mechanism of biofilm modulation is not clear. To address this issue, we utilized a sigma factor B (?sigB) mutant where protease activity results in a biofilm-negative phenotype, thereby creating a condition where the protease(s) responsible for the phenotype could be identified. Using a plasma-coated microtiter assay, biofilm formation was restored to the ?sigB mutant through the addition of the cysteine protease inhibitor E-64 or by using Staphostatin inhibitors that specifically target the extracellular cysteine proteases SspB and ScpA (called Staphopains). Through construction of gene deletion mutants, we determined that an sspB scpA double mutant restored ?sigB biofilm formation, and this recovery could be replicated in plasma-coated flow cell biofilms. Staphopain levels were also found to be decreased under biofilm-forming conditions, possibly allowing biofilm establishment. The treatment of S. aureus biofilms with purified SspB or ScpA enzyme inhibited their formation, and ScpA was also able to disperse an established biofilm. The antibiofilm properties of ScpA were conserved across S. aureus strain lineages. These findings suggest an underappreciated role of the SspB and ScpA cysteine proteases in modulating S. aureus biofilm architecture.
Lipoteichoic acid (LTA) is a crucial cell envelope component in Gram-positive bacteria. In Staphylococcus aureus, the polyglycerolphosphate LTA molecule is synthesized by LtaS, a membrane-embedded enzyme with five N-terminal transmembrane helices (5TM domain) that are connected via a linker region to the C-terminal extracellular enzymatic domain (eLtaS). The LtaS enzyme is processed during bacterial growth, and the eLtaS domain is released from the bacterial membrane. Here we provide experimental evidence that the proteolytic cleavage following residues 215Ala-Leu-Ala217 is performed by the essential S. aureus signal peptidase SpsB, as depletion of spsB results in reduced LtaS processing. In addition, the introduction of a proline residue at the +1 position with respect to the cleavage site, a substitution known to inhibit signal peptidase-dependent cleavage, abolished LtaS processing at this site. It was further shown that the 5TM domain is crucial for enzyme function. The observation that the construction of hybrid proteins between two functional LtaS-type enzymes resulted in the production of proteins unable to synthesize LTA suggests that specific interactions between the 5TM and eLtaS domains are required for function. No enzyme activity was detected upon expression of the 5TM and eLtaS domains as separate fragments, indicating that the two domains cannot assemble postsynthesis to form a functional enzyme. Taken together, our data suggest that only the full-length LtaS enzyme is active in the LTA synthesis pathway and that the proteolytic cleavage step is used as a mechanism to irreversibly inactivate the enzyme.
Complement is one of the first host defense barriers against bacteria. Activated complement attracts neutrophils to the site of infection and opsonizes bacteria to facilitate phagocytosis. The human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus has successfully developed ways to evade the complement system, for example by secretion of specific complement inhibitors. However, the influence of S. aureus proteases on the host complement system is still poorly understood. In this study, we identify the metalloprotease aureolysin as a potent complement inhibitor. Aureolysin effectively inhibits phagocytosis and killing of bacteria by neutrophils. Furthermore, we show that aureolysin inhibits the deposition of C3b on bacterial surfaces and the release of the chemoattractant C5a. Cleavage analyses show that aureolysin cleaves the central complement protein C3. Strikingly, there was a clear difference between the cleavages of C3 in serum versus purified conditions. Aureolysin cleaves purified C3 specifically in the ?-chain, close to the C3 convertase cleavage site, yielding active C3a and C3b. However, in serum we observe that the aureolysin-generated C3b is further degraded by host factors. We pinpointed these factors to be factor H and factor I. Using an aureolysin mutant in S. aureus USA300, we show that aureolysin is essential and sufficient for C3 cleavage by bacterial supernatant. In short, aureolysin acts in synergy with host regulators to inactivate C3 thereby effectively dampening the host immune response.
Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) is an emerging contributor to biofilm-related infections. We recently reported that strains lacking sigma factor B (sigB) in the USA300 lineage of CA-MRSA are unable to develop a biofilm. Interestingly, when spent media from a USA300 sigB mutant was incubated with other S. aureus strains, biofilm formation was inhibited. Following fractionation and mass spectrometry analysis, the major anti-biofilm factor identified in the spent media was secreted thermonuclease (Nuc). Considering reports that extracellular DNA (eDNA) is an important component of the biofilm matrix, we investigated the regulation and role of Nuc in USA300. The expression of the nuc gene was increased in a sigB mutant, repressed by glucose supplementation, and was unaffected by the agr quorum-sensing system. A FRET assay for Nuc activity was developed and confirmed the regulatory results. A USA300 nuc mutant was constructed and displayed an enhanced biofilm-forming capacity, and the nuc mutant also accumulated more high molecular weight eDNA than the WT and regulatory mutant strains. Inactivation of nuc in the USA300 sigB mutant background partially repaired the sigB biofilm-negative phenotype, suggesting that nuc expression contributes to the inability of the mutant to form biofilm. To test the generality of the nuc mutant biofilm phenotypes, the mutation was introduced into other S. aureus genetic backgrounds and similar increases in biofilm formation were observed. Finally, using multiple S. aureus strains and regulatory mutants, an inverse correlation between Nuc activity and biofilm formation was demonstrated. Altogether, our findings confirm the important role for eDNA in the S. aureus biofilm matrix and indicates Nuc is a regulator of biofilm formation.
The widespread emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and a lack of new pharmaceutical development have catalyzed a need for new and innovative approaches for antibiotic drug discovery. One bottleneck in antibiotic discovery is the lack of a rapid and comprehensive method to identify compound mode of action (MOA). Since a hallmark of antibiotic action is as an inhibitor of essential cellular targets and processes, we identify a set of 308 essential genes in the clinically important pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. A total of 446 strains differentially expressing these genes were constructed in a comprehensive platform of sensitized and resistant strains. A subset of strains allows either target underexpression or target overexpression by heterologous promoter replacements with a suite of tetracycline-regulatable promoters. A further subset of 236 antisense RNA-expressing clones allows knockdown expression of cognate targets. Knockdown expression confers selective antibiotic hypersensitivity, while target overexpression confers resistance. The antisense strains were configured into a TargetArray in which pools of sensitized strains were challenged in fitness tests. A rapid detection method measures strain responses toward antibiotics. The TargetArray antibiotic fitness test results show mechanistically informative biological fingerprints that allow MOA elucidation.
The emergence of drug-resistant bacteria coupled with the limited discovery of novel chemical scaffolds and druggable targets inspires new approaches to antibiotic development. Here we describe a chemical genomics strategy based on 245 Staphylococcus aureus antisense RNA strains, each engineered for reduced expression of target genes essential for S. aureus growth. Attenuation of gene expression can sensitize cells to compounds that inhibit the activity of a gene product or associated process. Pools of strains grown competitively in the presence of bioactive compounds generate characteristic profiles of strain sensitivities reflecting compound mechanism of action. Here, we validate this approach with a structurally and mechanistically diverse set of reference antibiotics and, in the accompanying paper in this issue of Chemistry & Biology (Huber et al., 2009), demonstrate its use in the discovery of new cell wall inhibitors.
With the emergence of Staphylococcus aureus as a prominent pathogen in community and healthcare settings, there is a growing need for effective reporter tools to facilitate physiology and pathogenesis studies. Fluorescent proteins are ideal as reporters for their convenience in monitoring gene expression, performing host interaction studies, and monitoring biofilm growth. We have developed a suite of fluorescent reporter plasmids for labeling S. aureus cells. These plasmids encode either green fluorescent protein (GFP) or higher wavelength reporter variants for yellow (YFP) and red (mCherry) labeling. The reporters were placed under control of characterized promoters to enable constitutive or inducible expression. Additionally, plasmids were assembled with fluorescent reporters under control of the agr quorum-sensing and sigma factor B promoters, and the fluorescent response with wildtype and relevant mutant strains was characterized. Interestingly, reporter expression displayed a strong dependence on ribosome binding site (RBS) sequence, with the superoxide dismutase RBS displaying the strongest expression kinetics of the sequences examined. To test the robustness of the reporter plasmids, cell imaging was performed with fluorescence microscopy and cell populations were separated using florescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), demonstrating the possibilities of simultaneous monitoring of multiple S. aureus properties. Finally, a constitutive YFP reporter displayed stable, robust labeling of biofilm growth in a flow-cell apparatus. This toolbox of fluorescent reporter plasmids will facilitate cell labeling for a variety of different experimental applications.
The CXC chemokine receptor 2 (CXCR2) on neutrophils, which recognizes chemokines produced at the site of infection, plays an important role in antimicrobial host defenses such as neutrophil activation and chemotaxis. Staphylococcus aureus is a successful human pathogen secreting a number of proteolytic enzymes, but their influence on the host immune system is not well understood. Here, we identify the cysteine protease Staphopain A as a chemokine receptor blocker. Neutrophils treated with Staphopain A are unresponsive to activation by all unique CXCR2 chemokines due to cleavage of the N-terminal domain, which can be neutralized by specific protease inhibitors. Moreover, Staphopain A inhibits neutrophil migration towards CXCR2 chemokines. By comparing a methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strain with an isogenic Staphopain A mutant, we demonstrate that Staphopain A is the only secreted protease with activity towards CXCR2. Although the inability to cleave murine CXCR2 limits in-vivo studies, our data indicate that Staphopain A is an important immunomodulatory protein that blocks neutrophil recruitment by specific cleavage of the N-terminal domain of human CXCR2.
This investigation examines the influence of alpha-toxin (Hla) during USA300 infection of human leukocytes. Survival of an USA300 isogenic deletion mutant of hla (USA300?hla) in human blood was comparable to the parental wild-type strain and polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) plasma membrane permeability caused by USA300 did not require Hla. Flow cytometry analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) following infection by USA300, USA300?hla, and USA300?hla transformed with a plasmid over-expressing Hla (USA300?hla Comp) demonstrated this toxin plays a significant role inducing plasma membrane permeability of CD14(+), CD3(+), and CD19(+) PBMCs. Rapid plasma membrane permeability independent of Hla was observed for PMNs, CD14(+) and CD19(+) PBMCs following intoxication with USA300 supernatant while the majority of CD3(+) PBMC plasma membrane permeability induced by USA300 required Hla. Addition of recombinant Hla to USA300?hla supernatant rescued CD3(+) and CD19(+) PBMC plasma membrane permeability generated by USA300 supernatant. An observed delay in plasma membrane permeability caused by Hla in conjunction with Annexin V binding and ApoBrdU Tunel assays examining PBMCs intoxicated with recombinant Hla or infected with USA300, USA300?hla, USA300?hla Comp, and USA300?saeR/S suggest Hla induces programmed cell death of monocytes, B cells, and T cells that results in plasma membrane permeability. Together these findings underscore the importance of Hla during S. aureus infection of human tissue and specifically demonstrate Hla activity during USA300 infection triggers programmed cell death of human monocytes, T cells and B cells that leads to plasma membrane permeability.
Staphylococcus aureus causes a wide range of human disease ranging from localized skin and soft tissue infections to potentially lethal systemic infections. S. aureus has the biosynthetic ability to generate numerous virulence factors that assist in circumventing the innate immune system during disease pathogenesis. Recent studies have uncovered a set of extracellular peptides produced by community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA) with homology to the phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) from Staphylococcus epidermidis. CA-MRSA PSMs contribute to skin infection and recruit and lyse neutrophils, and truncated versions of these peptides possess antimicrobial activity. In this study, novel CA-MRSA PSM derivatives were discovered by the use of microbial imaging mass spectrometry. The novel PSM derivatives are compared with their parent full-length peptides for changes in hemolytic, cytolytic, and neutrophil-stimulating activity. A potential contribution of the major S. aureus secreted protease aureolysin in processing PSMs is demonstrated. Finally, we show that PSM processing occurs in multiple CA-MRSA strains by structural confirmation of additional novel derivatives. This work demonstrates that IMS can serve as a useful tool to go beyond genome predictions and expand our understanding of the important family of small peptide virulence factors.
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