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1.  Phenol-soluble modulins – critical determinants of staphylococcal virulence 
FEMS microbiology reviews  2014;38(4):698-719.
Phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) are a recently discovered family of amphipathic, alpha-helical peptides that have multiple roles in staphylococcal pathogenesis and contribute to a large extent to the pathogenic success of virulent staphylococci, such as Staphylococcus aureus. PSMs may cause lysis of many human cell types including leukocytes and erythrocytes, stimulate inflammatory responses, and contribute to biofilm development. PSMs appear to have an original role in the commensal lifestyle of staphylococci, where they facilitate growth and spreading on epithelial surfaces. Aggressive, cytolytic PSMs seem to have evolved from that original role and are mainly expressed in highly virulent S. aureus. Here we will review the biochemistry, genetics and role of PSMs in the commensal and pathogenic lifestyles of staphylococci, discuss how diversification of PSMs defines the aggressiveness of staphylococcal species, and evaluate potential avenues to target PSMs for drug development against staphylococcal infections.
PMCID: PMC4072763  PMID: 24372362
Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; phenol-soluble modulin; toxin; virulence; biofilm
2.  Molecular and Structural Basis for the Roles of Hepatitis C Virus Polymerase NS5B Amino Acids 15, 223, and 321 in Viral Replication and Drug Resistance 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2014;58(11):6861-6869.
Resistance to the 2′-F-2′-C-methylguanosine monophosphate nucleotide hepatitis C virus (HCV) inhibitors PSI-352938 and PSI-353661 was associated with a combination of amino acid changes (changes of S to G at position 15 [S15G], C223H, and V321I) within the genotype 2a nonstructural protein 5B (NS5B), an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. To understand the role of these residues in viral replication, we examined the effects of single and multiple point mutations on replication fitness and inhibition by a series of nucleotide analog inhibitors. An acidic residue at position 15 reduced replicon fitness, consistent with its proximity to the RNA template. A change of the residue at position 223 to an acidic or large residue reduced replicon fitness, consistent with its proposed proximity to the incoming nucleoside triphosphate (NTP). A change of the residue at position 321 to a charged residue was not tolerated, consistent with its position within a hydrophobic cavity. This triple resistance mutation was specific to both genotype 2a virus and 2′-F-2′-C-methylguanosine inhibitors. A crystal structure of the NS5B S15G/C223H/V321I mutant of the JFH-1 isolate exhibited rearrangement to a conformation potentially consistent with short primer-template RNA binding, which could suggest a mechanism of resistance accomplished through a change in the NS5B conformation, which was better tolerated by genotype 2a virus than by viruses of other genotypes.
PMCID: PMC4249362  PMID: 25182647
3.  Neutrophil Recruitment to Lymph Nodes Limits Local Humoral Response to Staphylococcus aureus 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(4):e1004827.
Neutrophils form the first line of host defense against bacterial pathogens. They are rapidly mobilized to sites of infection where they help marshal host defenses and remove bacteria by phagocytosis. While splenic neutrophils promote marginal zone B cell antibody production in response to administered T cell independent antigens, whether neutrophils shape humoral immunity in other lymphoid organs is controversial. Here we investigate the neutrophil influx following the local injection of Staphylococcus aureus adjacent to the inguinal lymph node and determine neutrophil impact on the lymph node humoral response. Using intravital microscopy we show that local immunization or infection recruits neutrophils from the blood to lymph nodes in waves. The second wave occurs temporally with neutrophils mobilized from the bone marrow. Within lymph nodes neutrophils infiltrate the medulla and interfollicular areas, but avoid crossing follicle borders. In vivo neutrophils form transient and long-lived interactions with B cells and plasma cells, and their depletion augments production of antigen-specific IgG and IgM in the lymph node. In vitro activated neutrophils establish synapse- and nanotube-like interactions with B cells and reduce B cell IgM production in a TGF- β1 dependent manner. Our data reveal that neutrophils mobilized from the bone marrow in response to a local bacterial challenge dampen the early humoral response in the lymph node.
Author Summary
Highly antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) are an important human pathogen and major cause of hospital acquired infections. An early host defense mechanism against bacterial infection is neutrophil recruitment, which helps eliminate the bacteria at the site of invasion. However, unless quickly neutralized, pathogens such as S. aureus can gain access to nearby lymph nodes via draining lymphatics. Lymph nodes protect the host by mobilizing additional resources that limit further pathogen dissemination. These include recruitment of neutrophils to the lymph node to directly target pathogens and the initiation of adaptive immune mechanisms, such as the humoral immune response, which transforms B lymphocytes capable of making pathogen specific antibodies into antibody producing plasma cells. Using a mouse model that allows direct visualization of lymphocytes, neutrophils, and fluorescently-labeled S. aureus in lymph nodes, we document the rapid appearance of bacteria in the lymph node following local S. aureus infection. We characterize the dynamic influx of neutrophils that occurs as a consequence and reveal direct B cell-neutrophil interactions within the lymph node parenchyma. We find that while lymph node neutrophils rapidly engage bacteria, they limit the subsequent humoral immune response likely by producing Transforming Growth Factor-β1, a factor known to limit B cell responses. These finding have important implication for our understanding of B cell responses against potent pathogens such as S. aureus and for the design of effective vaccines.
PMCID: PMC4401519  PMID: 25884622
4.  Cytoplasmic replication of Staphylococcus aureus upon phagosomal escape triggered by phenol-soluble modulin α 
Cellular microbiology  2013;16(4):451-465.
Staphylococcus aureus is a Gram-positive human pathogen that is readily internalized by professional phagocytes such as macrophages and neutrophils but also by non-professional phagocytes such as epithelial or endothelial cells. Intracellular bacteria have been proposed to play a role in evasion of the innate immune system and may also lead to dissemination within migrating phagocytes. Further, S. aureus efficiently lyses host cells with a battery of cytolytic toxins. Recently, phenol-soluble modulins (PSM) have been identified to comprise a genus-specific family of cytolytic peptides. Of these the PSMα peptides have been implicated in killing polymorphonuclear leukocytes after phagocytosis. We questioned if the peptides were active in destroying endosomal membranes to avoid lysosomal killing of the pathogen and monitored integrity of infected host cell endosomes by measuring the acidity of the intracellular bacterial microenvironment via flow cytometry and by a reporter recruitment technique. Isogenic mutants of the methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains USA300 LAC, USA400 MW2 as well as the strongly cytolytic methicillin-sensitive strain 6850 were compared to their respective wild type strains. In all three genetic backgrounds, PSMα mutants were unable to escape from phagosomes in non-professional (293, HeLa, EAhy.926) and professional phagocytes (THP-1), whereas mutants in PSMβ and δ-toxin as well as β-toxin, phosphatidyl inositol-dependent phospholipase C and Panton Valentine leukotoxin escaped with efficiencies of the parental strains. S. aureus replicated intracellularly only in presence of a functional PSMα operon thereby illustrating that bacteria grow in the host cell cytoplasm upon phagosomal escape.
PMCID: PMC3969633  PMID: 24164701
5.  Phenol-soluble modulins 
PSMs are a recently discovered family of short, amphipathic, α-helical peptides in staphylococci. Several PSMs are key virulence determinants, particularly in highly virulent Staphylococcus aureus strains. PSMα peptides of S. aureus facilitate neutrophil lysis after phagocytosis, and are key contributors to several infection types, including skin infection and bacteremia. Furthermore, all PSMs contribute to biofilm structuring and the dissemination of biofilm-associated infection. Cytolytic PSMs as produced by S. aureus appear to have evolved from original functions in the non-infectious lifestyle of staphylococci. The surfactant properties of PSMs, which they all share, are believed to facilitate growth on epithelial surfaces. The basic role of PSMs in staphylococcal physiology is underscored, for example, by their exceptionally strict and direct control by quorum-sensing and the presence of a dedicated secretion system. Targeting PSMs for anti-staphylococcal drug development may be a promising approach to overcome the problems associated with widespread antibiotic resistance in staphylococci.
PMCID: PMC4014003  PMID: 24447915
Phenol-soluble modulins; Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; cytolysis; toxins; leukotoxin; neutrophils; biofilm
6.  The psmα Locus Regulates Production of Staphylococcus aureus Alpha-Toxin during Infection 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(8):3350-3358.
Staphylococcus aureus is a leading cause of human bacterial infection, causing a wide spectrum of disease ranging from skin and soft tissue infections to life-threatening pneumonia and sepsis. S. aureus toxins play an essential role in disease pathogenesis, contributing to both immunomodulation and host tissue injury. Prominent among these toxins are the membrane-active pore-forming cytolysin alpha-toxin (Hla) and the amphipathic α-helical phenol-soluble modulin (PSM) peptides. As deletion of either the hla or psm locus leads to a phenotypically similar virulence defect in skin and soft tissue infection, we sought to determine the relative contribution of each locus to disease pathogenesis. Here we show that production of Hla can be modulated by PSM expression. An S. aureus mutant lacking PSM expression exhibits a transcriptional delay in hla mRNA production and therefore fails to secrete normal levels of Hla at early phases of growth. This leads to attenuation of virulence in vitro and in murine skin and lung models of infection, correlating with reduced recovery of Hla from host tissues. Production of Hla and restoration of staphylococcal virulence can be achieved in the psm mutant by plasmid-driven overexpression of hla. Our study suggests the coordinated action of Hla and PSMs in host tissue during early pathogenesis, confirming a major role for Hla in epithelial injury during S. aureus infection. These findings highlight the possibility that therapeutics targeting PSM production may simultaneously prevent Hla-mediated tissue injury.
PMCID: PMC4136214  PMID: 24866799
7.  Accessibility and Affordability of Alcohol Dependency Medical Care in Serbia 
PMCID: PMC4290475  PMID: 25628574
alcohol; dependency; addiction; affordability; economics; medical care; Serbia; access
8.  Evolution of community- and healthcare-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus☆ 
Staphylococcus aureus is a prominent cause of human infections globally. The high prevalence of infections is compounded by antibiotic resistance—a significant problem for treatment. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) is endemic in hospitals and healthcare facilities worldwide, and is an increasingly common cause of community-associated bacterial infections in industrialized countries. Although much focus is placed on the role of S. aureus as a human pathogen, it is in fact a human commensal organism that has had a relatively long coexistence with the human host. Many S. aureus infections can be explained by host susceptibility or other predisposing risk factors. On the other hand, the emergence/re-emergence of successful S. aureus clones (referred to as epidemic waves) suggests a rapid bacterial adaption and evolution, which includes the emergence of antibiotic resistance and increased virulence and/or transmissibility. It is within this context that we review our understanding of selected S. aureus epidemic waves, and highlight the use of genome sequencing as a means to better understand the evolution of each lineage.
PMCID: PMC3884050  PMID: 23648426
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; Epidemic; Genome sequencing; Antimicrobial resistance
9.  A Spaetzle-like role for Nerve Growth Factor β in vertebrate immunity to Staphylococcus aureus 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2014;346(6209):641-646.
Many key components of innate immunity to infection are shared between Drosophila and humans. However, the fly Toll ligand Spaetzle is not thought to have a vertebrate equivalent. We have found that the structurally related cystine-knot protein, Nerve Growth Factor β (NGFβ), plays an unexpected Spaetzle-like role in immunity to Staphylococcus aureus infection in chordates. Deleterious mutations of either human NGFβ or its high-affinity receptor TRKA were associated with severe S. aureus infections. NGFβ was released by macrophages in response to S. aureus exoproteins through activation of NLRP3 and NLRP4, and enhanced phagocytosis and superoxide-dependent killing, stimulated pro-inflammatory cytokine production, and promoted calcium-dependent neutrophil recruitment. TrkA knockdown in zebrafish increased susceptibility to S. aureus infection, confirming an evolutionarily conserved role for NGFβ-TRKA signaling in pathogen-specific host immunity.
PMCID: PMC4255479  PMID: 25359976
10.  D-Cycloserine Augmentation of Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy of Social Anxiety Disorder: Prognostic and Prescriptive Variables 
The aim of the current study was to identify individual characteristics that (1) predict symptom improvement with group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder (SAD; i.e., prognostic variables) or (2) moderate the effects of d-cycloserine vs. placebo augmentation of CBT for SAD (i.e., prescriptive variables).
Adults with SAD (N=169) provided Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) scores in a trial evaluating DCS augmentation of group CBT. Rate of symptom improvement during therapy and posttreatment symptom severity were evaluated using multilevel modeling. As predictors of these two parameters, we selected the range of variables assessed at baseline (demographic characteristics, clinical characteristics, personality traits). Using step-wise analyses, we first identified prognostic and prescriptive variables within each of these domains and then entered these significant predictors simultaneously in one final model.
African American ethnicity and cohabitation status were associated with greater overall rates of improvement during therapy and lower posttreatment severity. Higher initial severity was associated with a greater improvement during therapy, but also higher posttreatment severity (the greater improvement was not enough to overcome the initial higher severity). D-cycloserine augmentation was evident only among individuals low in conscientiousness and high in agreeableness.
African American ethnicity, cohabitation status, and initial severity are prognostic of favorable CBT outcomes in SAD. D-cycloserine augmentation appears particularly useful for patients low in conscientiousness and high in agreeableness. These findings can guide clinicians in making decisions about treatment strategies and can help direct research on the mechanisms of these treatments.
PMCID: PMC4241751  PMID: 23937345
Cognitive-behavioral therapy; d-cycloserine; CBT; social anxiety disorder; social phobia; randomized controlled trial; predictors; moderators; personality traits
11.  Seasonal H3N2 influenza A virus fails to enhance Staphylococcus aureus co-infection in a non-human primate respiratory tract infection model 
Virulence  2013;4(8):707-715.
Staphylococcus aureus community-acquired pneumonia is often associated with influenza or an influenza-like syndrome. Morbidity and mortality due to methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) or influenza and pneumonia, which includes bacterial co-infection, are among the top causes of death by infectious diseases in the United States. We developed a non-lethal influenza A virus (IAV) (H3N2)/S. aureus co-infection model in cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to test the hypothesis that seasonal IAV infection predisposes non-human primates to severe S. aureus pneumonia. Infection and disease progression were monitored by clinical assessment of animal health; analysis of blood chemistry, nasal swabs, and X-rays; and gross pathology and histopathology of lungs from infected animals. Seasonal IAV infection in healthy cynomolgus macaques caused mild pneumonia, but unexpectedly, did not predispose these animals to subsequent severe infection with the community-associated MRSA clone USA300. We conclude that in our co-infection model, seasonal IAV infection alone is not sufficient to promote severe S. aureus pneumonia in otherwise healthy non-human primates. The implication of these findings is that comorbidity factors in addition to IAV infection are required to predispose individuals to secondary S. aureus pneumonia.
PMCID: PMC3925702  PMID: 24104465
Staphylococcus aureus; influenza a virus; coinfection; USA300; MRSA; pneumonia
Depression and anxiety  2013;30(11):1114-1120.
Sleep quality may be an important, yet relatively neglected, predictor of treatment outcome in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders. Specifically, poor sleep quality may impair memory consolidation of in-session extinction learning. We therefore examined sleep quality as a predictor of treatment outcome in CBT for social anxiety disorder and the impact of d-cycloserine (DCS) on this relationship.
One hundred sixty-nine participants with a primary diagnosis of DSM-IV generalized social anxiety disorder were recruited across three sites. Participants were enrolled in 12 weeks of group CBT. Participants randomly received 50 mg of DCS (n = 87) or pill placebo (n = 82) 1 hr prior to sessions 3–7. Participants completed a baseline measure of self-reported sleep quality and daily diaries recording subjective feelings of being rested upon wakening. Outcome measures including social anxiety symptoms and global severity scores were assessed at each session.
Poorer baseline sleep quality was associated with slower improvement and higher posttreatment social anxiety symptom and severity scores. Moreover, patients who felt more “rested” after sleeping the night following a treatment session had lower levels of symptoms and global severity at the next session, controlling for their symptoms and severity scores the previous session. Neither of these effects were moderated by DCS condition.
Our findings suggest that poor sleep quality diminishes the effects of CBT for social anxiety disorder and this relation is not attenuated by DCS administration. Therapeutic attention to sleep quality prior to initiation of CBT and during the acute treatment phase may be clinically indicated.
PMCID: PMC4043139  PMID: 24038728
sleep quality; cognitive behavioral therapy; psychotherapy; social anxiety disorder; social phobia; d-cycloserine
13.  Extreme Attributions Predict Transition from Depression to Mania or Hypomania in Bipolar Disorder 
Journal of psychiatric research  2013;47(10):1329-1336.
Relatively little is known about psychological predictors of the onset of mania among individuals with bipolar disorder, particularly during episodes of depression. In the present study we investigated attributional style as a predictor of onset of hypomanic, manic or mixed episodes among bipolar adults receiving psychosocial treatment for depression. We hypothesized that “extreme” (i.e., excessively pessimistic or optimistic) attributions would predict a greater likelihood of developing an episode of mood elevation.
Outpatients with DSM-IV bipolar I or II disorder (N=105) enrolled in the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD) were randomly allocated to one of three types of intensive psychotherapy for depression or a brief psychoeducational intervention. Patients completed a measure of attributional style at baseline and were followed prospectively for up to one year. All analyses were by intent to treat.
Logistic regressions and Cox proportional hazards models indicated that extreme (both positively- and negatively-valenced) attributions predicted a higher likelihood of (and shorter time until) transition from depression to a (hypo)manic or mixed episode (ps < .04), independent of the effects of manic or depressive symptom severity at baseline. Extreme attributions were also retrospectively associated with more lifetime episodes of (hypo)mania and depression (ps < .05).
Evaluating extreme attributions may help clinicians to identify patients who are at risk for experiencing a more severe course of bipolar illness, and who may benefit from treatments that introduce greater cognitive flexibility.
PMCID: PMC3743936  PMID: 23791456
attributional style; cognitive style; cognitive vulnerability; mania; hypomania; manic switch
14.  D-cycloserine Enhancement of Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder Depends on the Success of Exposure Sessions 
Journal of psychiatric research  2013;47(10):1455-1461.
The evidence for the efficacy of D-cycloserine (DCS) for augmenting cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety disorders has been mixed. Guided by preclinical research and initial findings from a small-scale study involving humans, we tested the hypothesis that DCS enhancement of exposure therapy would be specific to successful exposure sessions.
Medication-free adults with generalized social anxiety disorder (N = 145) received 50 mg of DCS or placebo 1 hour before each of 5 exposure sessions that were part of a standardized 12-session group CBT protocol. Participants provided fear ratings at the beginning and just before the end of exposure exercises. Independent raters, blind to group assignment, administered the clinical global impression improvement and severity scales at each session and at posttreatment.
Mixed-effects analyses revealed that, among patients who reported low fear at the end of an exposure session, those who had received DCS evidenced significantly greater clinical improvement at the next session, relative to those who had received placebo. In contrast, when exposure end fear was high, patients receiving DCS exhibited less clinical improvement at the following session than patients receiving placebo. Similarly, patients who had received DCS evidenced lower clinical severity at posttreatment, relative to patients who had received placebo, only when their average end fear for medication-augmented sessions had been in the low to moderate range. Finally, these moderating effects of exposure success as indexed by end fear were not better accounted for by within-session extinction.
The efficacy of DCS for augmenting exposure-based CBT depends on the success of exposure sessions. These findings may help guide the development of an algorithm for the effective use of DCS for augmenting exposure-based CBT.
Trial Registry, ID# NCT00633984,
PMCID: PMC3747985  PMID: 23870811
CBT; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Exposure therapy; Fear extinction; D-cycloserine; Moderators; Social Anxiety Disorder; Social Phobia
15.  Combination Prophylactic Therapy with Rifampin Increases Efficacy against an Experimental Staphylococcus epidermidis Subcutaneous Implant-Related Infection 
The incidence of infections related to cardiac devices (such as permanent pacemakers) has been increasing out of proportion to implantation rates. As management of device infections typically requires explantation of the device, optimal prophylactic strategies are needed. Cefazolin and vancomycin are widely used as single agents for surgical prophylaxis against cardiac device-related infections. However, combination antibiotic prophylaxis may further reduce infectious complications. To model a localized subcutaneous implant-related infection, a bioluminescent strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis was inoculated onto a medical-procedure-grade titanium disc, which was placed into a subcutaneous pocket in the backs of mice. In vivo bioluminescence imaging, quantification of ex vivo CFU from the capsules and implants, variable-pressure scanning electron microscopy (VP-SEM), and neutrophil enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) fluorescence in LysEGFP mice were employed to monitor the infection. This model was used to evaluate the efficacies of low- and high-dose cefazolin (50 and 200 mg/kg of body weight) and vancomycin (10 and 110 mg/kg) intravenous prophylaxis with or without rifampin (25 mg/kg). High-dose cefazolin and high-dose vancomycin treatment resulted in almost complete bacterial clearance, whereas both low-dose cefazolin and low-dose vancomycin reduced the in vivo and ex vivo bacterial burden only moderately. The addition of rifampin to low-dose cefazolin and vancomycin was highly effective in further reducing the CFU harvested from the implants. However, vancomycin-rifampin was more effective than cefazolin-rifampin in further reducing the CFU harvested from the surrounding tissue capsules. Future studies in humans will be required to determine whether the addition of rifampin has improved efficacy in preventing device-related infections in clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC4023771  PMID: 24514089
16.  Patient Preference for Psychological vs. Pharmacological Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-Analytic Review 
Models of evidence-based practice emphasize the consideration of treatment efficacy/effectiveness, clinical expertise, and patient preference in treatment selection and implementation. However, patient preference for psychiatric treatment has been understudied. The aim of this meta-analytic review was to provide an estimate of the proportion of patients preferring psychological treatment relative to medication for psychiatric disorders.
Data Sources
A literature search was conducted using PubMed, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Collaboration Library through August, 2011 for studies written in English that assessed patient preferences for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
Study Selection
Studies assessing the preferred type of treatment including at least one psychological treatment and one pharmacological treatment were included. Of the 641 articles initially identified, 34 met criteria for inclusion.
Data Extraction
Authors extracted relevant data including the proportion of participants reporting preference for psychological and pharmacological treatment.
Across studies, the proportion preferring psychological treatment was 0.75 (95% CI: 0.69 to 0.80), which was significantly higher than equivalent preference (i.e., higher than 0.50, p < .001). Sensitivity analyses suggested that younger patients (p < .05) and women (p < .01) were significantly more like to choose psychological treatment. A preference for psychological treatment was consistently evident in both treatment-seeking and unselected samples (ps < .05), but was somewhat stronger for the unselected samples.
Aggregation of patient preferences across diverse settings yielded a significant three-fold preference for psychological treatment relative to medication. Given the similar efficacy of these treatments for depression and anxiety, improving access to evidence-based psychological treatment is needed to connect more patients to their preferred treatment.
PMCID: PMC4156137  PMID: 23842011
17.  Production of an Attenuated Phenol-Soluble Modulin Variant Unique to the MRSA Clonal Complex 30 Increases Severity of Bloodstream Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004298.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a leading cause of morbidity and death. Phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) are recently-discovered toxins with a key impact on the development of Staphylococcus aureus infections. Allelic variants of PSMs and their potential impact on pathogen success during infection have not yet been described. Here we show that the clonal complex (CC) 30 lineage, a major cause of hospital-associated sepsis and hematogenous complications, expresses an allelic variant of the PSMα3 peptide. We found that this variant, PSMα3N22Y, is characteristic of CC30 strains and has significantly reduced cytolytic and pro-inflammatory potential. Notably, CC30 strains showed reduced cytolytic and chemotactic potential toward human neutrophils, and increased hematogenous seeding in a bacteremia model, compared to strains in which the genome was altered to express non-CC30 PSMα3. Our findings describe a molecular mechanism contributing to attenuated pro-inflammatory potential in a main MRSA lineage. They suggest that reduced pathogen recognition via PSMs allows the bacteria to evade elimination by innate host defenses during bloodstream infections. Furthermore, they underscore the role of point mutations in key S. aureus toxin genes in that adaptation and the pivotal importance PSMs have in defining key S. aureus immune evasion and virulence mechanisms.
Author Summary
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality and a great concern for public health. The CC30 MRSA lineage is especially notorious for causing bloodstream infections with complications such as seeding into organs. In our study, we show that this lineage produces an attenuated form of a key S. aureus toxin with decreased pro-inflammatory features. Our results suggest that attenuation of this toxin allows the bacteria to evade recognition and subsequent elimination by host defenses, thereby increasing pathogen success during blood infection.
PMCID: PMC4140855  PMID: 25144687
18.  Oxacillin Alters the Toxin Expression Profile of Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
The emergence of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) is a growing cause for concern. These strains are more virulent than health care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA) due to higher levels of toxin expression. In a previous study, we showed that the high-level expression of PBP2a, the alternative penicillin binding protein encoded by the mecA gene on type II staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) elements, reduced toxicity by interfering with the Agr quorum sensing system. This was not seen in strains carrying the CA-MRSA-associated type IV SCCmec element. These strains express significantly lower levels of PBP2a than the other MRSA type, which may explain their relatively high toxicity. We hypothesized that as oxacillin is known to increase mecA expression levels, it may be possible to attenuate the toxicity of CA-MRSA by using this antibiotic. Subinhibitory oxacillin concentrations induced PBP2a expression, repressed Agr activity, and, as a consequence, decreased phenol-soluble modulin (PSM) secretion by CA-MRSA strains. However, consistent with other studies, oxacillin also increased the expression levels of alpha-toxin and Panton-Valentine leucocidin (PVL). The net effect of these changes on the ability to lyse diverse cell types was tested, and we found that where the PSMs and alpha-toxin are important, oxacillin reduced overall lytic activity, but where PVL is important, it increased lytic activity, demonstrating the pleiotropic effect of oxacillin on toxin expression by CA-MRSA.
PMCID: PMC3910814  PMID: 24295979
19.  Community-associated MRSA: what makes them special? 
While infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were traditionally restricted to the hospital setting, novel MRSA strains emerged over the last two decades that have the capacity to infect otherwise healthy people outside of the hospital setting. These communityassociated (CA-) MRSA strains combine methicillin resistance with enhanced virulence and fitness. Interestingly, CA-MRSA strains emerged globally and from different backgrounds, indicating that the “trade-off” between maintaining sufficient levels of methicillin resistance and obtaining enhanced virulence at a low fitness cost was achieved on several occasions in convergent evolution. However, frequently this process comprised similar changes. First and foremost, all CA-MRSA strains typically carry a novel type of methicillin resistance locus that appears to cause less of a fitness burden. Additionally, acquisition of specific toxin genes, most notably that encoding Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), and adaptation of gene expression of genome-encoded toxins, such as alpha-toxin and phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs), further contributed to the evolution of CA-MRSA. Finally, the exceptional epidemiological success of the USA300 CA-MRSA clone in particular may have been due to yet another gene acquisition, namely that of the speG gene, which is located on the arginine catabolic mobile element (ACME) and involved in detoxifying harmful host-derived polyamines.
PMCID: PMC3729626  PMID: 23517691
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; community-associated MRSA; alpha-toxin; Panton-Valentine leukocidin; phenol-soluble modulin
20.  Staphylococcus δ-toxin promotes mouse allergic skin disease by inducing mast cell degranulation 
Nature  2013;503(7476):397-401.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that affects 15 to 30% of children and ~5% of adults in industrialized countries1. Although the pathogenesis of AD is not fully understood, the disease is mediated by an abnormal immunoglobulin E (IgE) immune response in the setting of skin barrier dysfunction2. Mast cells (MCs) contribute to IgE-mediated allergic disorders including AD3. Upon activation, MCs release their membrane-bound cytosolic granules leading to the release of multiple molecules that are important in the pathogenesis of AD and host defense4. More than 90% of AD patients are colonized with Staphylococcus aureus in the lesional skin whereas most healthy individuals do not harbor the pathogen5. Several Staphylococcal exotoxins (SEs) can act as superantigens and/or antigens in models of AD6. However, the role of these SEs in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. Here, we report that culture supernatants of S. aureus contain potent MC degranulation activity. Biochemical analysis identified δ-toxin as the MC degranulation-inducing factor produced by S. aureus. MC degranulation induced by δ-toxin depended on phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) and calcium (Ca2+) influx, but unlike that mediated by IgE crosslinking, it did not require the spleen tyrosine kinase (Syk). In addition, IgE enhanced δ-toxin-induced MC degranulation in the absence of antigen. Furthermore, S. aureus isolates recovered from AD patients produced high levels of δ-toxin. Importantly, skin colonization with S. aureus, but not a mutant deficient in δ-toxin, promoted IgE and IL-4 production, as well as inflammatory skin disease. Furthermore, enhancement of IgE production and dermatitis by δ-toxin was abrogated in KitW-sh/W-sh MC-deficient mice and restored by MC reconstitution. These studies identify δ-toxin as a potent inducer of MC degranulation and suggest a mechanistic link between S. aureus colonization and allergic skin disease.
PMCID: PMC4090780  PMID: 24172897
21.  Mood regulation and quality of life in social anxiety disorder: An examination of generalized expectancies for negative mood regulation 
Journal of anxiety disorders  2012;26(3):435-441.
The present study examined negative mood regulation expectancies, anxiety symptom severity, and quality of life in a sample of 167 patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and 165 healthy controls with no DSM-IV Axis I disorders. Participants completed the Generalized Expectancies for Negative Mood Regulation Scale (NMR), the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire. SAD symptom severity was assessed using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale. Individuals with SAD scored significantly lower than controls on the NMR. Among SAD participants, NMR scores were negatively correlated with anxiety symptoms and SAD severity, and positively correlated with quality of life. NMR expectancies positively predicted quality of life even after controlling for demographic variables, comorbid diagnoses, anxiety symptoms, and SAD severity. Individuals with SAD may be less likely to engage in emotion regulating strategies due to negative beliefs regarding their effectiveness, thereby contributing to poorer quality of life.
PMCID: PMC4090049  PMID: 22343166
Social anxiety disorder; Social phobia; Emotion regulation; Generalized expectancies for mood; regulation
22.  D-cycloserine as an augmentation strategy of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder 
The American journal of psychiatry  2013;170(7):751-758.
To test whether d-cycloserine, a partial agonist at the glutamatergic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, augments and accelerates a full course of comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in medication-free adults with generalized social anxiety disorder.
A randomized placebo-controlled efficacy-study conducted at Boston University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Southern Methodist University between 9/2007 and 12/2011 of 169 medication-free adults with generalized social anxiety disorder; 144 completed treatment, and 131 completed the follow-up assessments. Patients were randomized to receive 50 mg of d-cycloserine or placebo 1 hour before each of 5 exposure sessions that were part of a 12-session cognitive behavioral group treatment. Response and remission status was determined at baseline, throughout treatment, post-treatment, and at 1, 3, and 6-month follow-up assessments rated by assessors who were blind to treatment condition.
D-cycloserine-augmented and placebo-augmented CBT were associated with similar completion rates (87% and 82%), response rates (79.3% and 73.3%), and remission rates (34.5% and 24.4%) at post-treatment that were largely maintained at follow-up. Although d-cycloserine was associated with a 24–33% faster rate of improvement in symptom severity and remission rates relative to placebo during the 12-week treatment phase, the groups did not differ in response and remission rates.
D-cycloserine did not augment a full course of comprehensive CBT for social anxiety disorder.
PMCID: PMC4058999  PMID: 23599046
Cognitive behavioral therapy; d-cycloserine; N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor agonist; CBT; social anxiety disorder; social phobia; randomized controlled trial
23.  Selective Chemical Inhibition of agr Quorum Sensing in Staphylococcus aureus Promotes Host Defense with Minimal Impact on Resistance 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(6):e1004174.
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.
Author Summary
New approaches are needed to lessen the burden of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. One strategy is to develop therapies that target virulence which rely on host defense elements to clear the bacteria rather than direct antimicrobial killing. Quorum sensing is a bacterial signaling mechanism that often regulates virulence in medically relevant bacterial pathogens. Therefore, drugs that inhibit quorum sensing can promote host defense by rendering the pathogenic bacteria avirulent and/or less fit for survival within the host. Our work addressed this strategy in the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus which is the major cause of acute bacterial skin and soft tissue infections. We conducted a high throughput screen to identify compounds that could inhibit signaling by the quorum sensing operon, agr. We found a compound that we termed savirin (S. aureus virulence inhibitor) that could inhibit signaling by this operon. The drug helped the innate immune system in animals to clear bacteria that express this operon without affecting clearance of bacteria that do not have this operon. We addressed the mechanism of action of this compound and whether resistance or tolerance to this compound would likely develop. Our data indicate for the first time that host defense against S. aureus skin infections can be enhanced by chemical inhibition of agr-mediated quorum sensing.
PMCID: PMC4055767  PMID: 24945495
24.  d-cycloserine Enhancement of Fear Extinction is Specific to Successful Exposure Sessions: Evidence from the Treatment of Height Phobia 
Biological psychiatry  2013;73(11):1054-1058.
Whereas some studies have shown clear evidence for an augmentation effect of d-cycloserine (DCS) on exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, other studies have shown weak effects or no effect at all. Some preclinical data suggest that the DCS augmentation effect is moderated by the success of the extinction trials. Therefore, we conducted a re-analysis of existing data to examine whether the effects of DCS on clinical outcome would vary as a function of response to the exposure session (i.e. exposure success).
In a clinical trial, patients with height phobia received two sessions involving 30 minutes of virtual reality exposure therapy and were randomly assigned to a pill placebo (N=14) or 50 mg of DCS (N=15) immediately after each session.
Mixed-effects regression analysis showed that the effects of DCS administration on clinical improvement was moderated by the level of fear experienced just prior to concluding exposure sessions. Patients receiving DCS exhibited significantly greater improvement in symptoms relative to patients who received placebo when subjective fear was low at the end of the exposure. In contrast, when end fear was still elevated, patients receiving DCS improved less compared to those receiving placebo.
DCS appears to enhance the benefits of exposure treatment when applied after a successful session, but it seems to have detrimental effects when administered after inadequate/unsuccessful exposures.
Trial Registry
The Trial is registered at (NCT01102803).
PMCID: PMC3636175  PMID: 23332511
CBT; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Exposure therapy; Fear extinction; d-cycloserine; Moderators; Acrophobia
25.  Disparate Rates of New-Onset Depression During the Menopausal Transition in 2 Community-based Populations: Real, or Really Wrong? 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2013;177(10):1148-1156.
This study took place in eastern Massachusetts and included respondents from the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles Cohort 1, enrolled between 1995 and 1997, and the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles Cohort 2, enrolled between 2005 and 2009. In prospectively assessing rates of new-onset depression in 2 populations of late-reproductive–aged women with no Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) lifetime history of depression, we were surprised to find far lower rates of depression in the population with greater racial diversity and lower socioeconomic status, contrary to what had been reported in the scientific literature. To better understand why these disparate results occurred, we assessed confounding and outcome misclassification as potential explanations for the discrepancy. After determining that these were unlikely explanations for the findings, we explored 2 potential sources of selection bias: one induced by self-referral of healthy participants into the study and the other induced by the design of the study itself. We concluded that both types of selection bias were likely to have occurred in this study and could account for the observed difference in rates.
PMCID: PMC3649637  PMID: 23589585
bias; depression; prospective studies

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