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1.  Systems Biology and Innate Immunity 
Journal of innate immunity  2013;5(2):97-99.
PMCID: PMC3717263  PMID: 23428597
2.  Epidemic Klebsiella pneumoniae ST258 Is a Hybrid Strain 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01355-14.
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), especially Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC)-producing K. pneumoniae, pose an urgent threat in health facilities in the United States and worldwide. K. pneumoniae isolates classified as sequence type 258 (ST258) by multilocus sequence typing are largely responsible for the global spread of KPC. A recent comparative genome study revealed that ST258 K. pneumoniae strains are two distinct genetic clades; however, the molecular origin of ST258 largely remains unknown, and our understanding of the evolution of the two genetic clades is incomplete. Here we compared the genetic structures and single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) distributions in the core genomes of strains from two ST258 clades and other STs (ST11, ST442, and ST42). We identified an ~1.1-Mbp region on ST258 genomes that is homogeneous to that of ST442, while the rest of the ST258 genome resembles that of ST11. Our results suggest ST258 is a hybrid clone—80% of the genome originated from ST11-like strains and 20% from ST442-like strains. Meanwhile, we sequenced an ST42 strain that carries the same K-antigen-encoding capsule polysaccharide biosynthesis gene (cps) region as ST258 clade I strains. Comparison of the cps-harboring regions between the ST42 and ST258 strains (clades I and II) suggests the ST258 clade I strains evolved from a clade II strain as a result of cps region replacement. Our findings unravel the molecular evolution history of ST258 strains, an important first step toward the development of diagnostic, therapeutic, and vaccine strategies to combat infections caused by multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae.
Recombination events and replacement of chromosomal regions have been documented in various bacteria, and these events have given rise to successful pathogenic clones. Here we used comparative genomic analyses to discover that the ST258 K. pneumoniae genome is a hybrid—80% of the chromosome is homologous to ST11 strains, while the remaining 20% is homologous to that of ST442. Meanwhile, a recent study indicated that ST258 strains can be segregated into two ST258 clades, with distinct capsule polysaccharide gene (cps) regions. Our analysis suggests ST258 clade I strains evolved from clade II through homologous recombination of cps region. Horizontal transfer of the cps region appears to be a key element driving the molecular diversification in K. pneumoniae strains. These findings not only extend our understanding of the molecular evolution of ST258 but are an important step toward the development of effective control and treatment strategies for multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae.
PMCID: PMC4073492  PMID: 24961694
3.  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
4.  Staphylococcus aureus Protein A Promotes Immune Suppression 
mBio  2013;4(5):e00764-13.
Staphylococcus aureus is a prominent cause of human infections worldwide and is notorious for its ability to acquire resistance to antibiotics. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), in particular, is endemic in hospitals and is the most frequent cause of community-associated bacterial infections in the United States. Inasmuch as treatment options for severe MRSA infections are limited, there is need for a vaccine that protects against such infections. However, recent efforts to generate a staphylococcal vaccine have met with little success in human clinical trials. These failures are somewhat puzzling, since the vaccine antigens tested promote opsonophagocytosis in vitro and confer protection in animal infection models. One possibility is that the pathogen inhibits (and/or fails to elicit) the development of protective immunity in humans. Indeed, S. aureus produces numerous molecules that can potentially promote immune evasion, including protein A (SpA), an immunoglobulin (Ig)-binding protein present on the bacterial surface and freely secreted into the extracellular environment. SpA binds the Fc region of antibody and the Fab regions of the B-cell receptor, processes that are known to block opsonophagocytosis and cause B-cell death in vitro. In a recent study, Falugi et al. [F. Falugi, H. K. Kim, D. M. Missiakas, and O. Schneewind, mBio 4(5):e00575-13, 2013] showed that vaccination with spa mutant S. aureus strains lacking antibody Fc- and/or Fab-binding capacity protects against subsequent challenge with the USA300 epidemic strain. The findings provide strong support for the idea that SpA promotes S. aureus immune evasion in vivo and form the foundation for a new approach in our efforts to develop a vaccine that prevents severe S. aureus infections.
PMCID: PMC3791897  PMID: 24085782
5.  Staphylococcus aureus survival in human blood 
Virulence  2011;2(6):567-569.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is abundant in hospitals and in the United States is a leading cause of mortality due to infectious agents. Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) strains such as USA300, which typically cause disease outside of healthcare settings, are also prevalent in the United States. Although most CA-MRSA infections affect skin and soft tissue, the pathogen can enter the bloodstream and ultimately cause severe disease. In a recent paper, we used USA300-specific microarrays to generate a comprehensive view of the molecules that facilitate S. aureus immune evasion and survival in human blood. Notably, genes encoding proteins involved in iron-uptake and utilization and gamma-hemolysin (hlgABC) are highly upregulated by USA300 during culture in human blood. Here we discuss the potential implication of these findings and the possible role of gammahemolysin in the success of S. aureus as a human pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3260549  PMID: 21971187
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; blood transcriptome; gammahemolysin; leukotoxin; neutrophil
6.  Francisella tularensis alters human neutrophil gene expression: insights into the molecular basis of delayed neutrophil apoptosis 
Journal of innate immunity  2012;5(2):124-136.
We demonstrated recently that Francisella tularensis profoundly impairs human neutrophil apoptosis, but how this is achieved is largely unknown. Herein we used human oligonucleotide microarrays to test the hypothesis that changes in neutrophil gene expression contribute to this phenotype, and now demonstrate that F. tularensis live vaccine strain (LVS) caused significant changes in neutrophil gene expression over a 24 h time period relative to the uninfected controls. Of ~47,000 genes analyzed, 3,435 were significantly up- or down-regulated by LVS, including 365 unique genes associated with apoptosis and cell survival. Specific targets in this category included genes associated with the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways (CFLAR, TNFAIP3, TNFRSF10D, SOD2, BCL2A1, BIRC4, PIM2, TNFSF10, TNFRSF10C, CASP2, and CASP8) and genes that act via the NF B pathway and other mechanisms to prolong cell viability (NFKB1, NFKB2, and RELA, IL1B, CAST, CDK2, GADD45B, BCL3, BIRC3, CDK2, IL1A, PBEF1, IL6, CXCL1, CCL4 and VEGF). The microarray data were confirmed by qPCR and pathway analysis. Moreover, we demonstrate that X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) protein remained abundant in PMNs over 48 h of LVS infection, whereas BAX mRNA and protein were progressively down-regulated. These data strongly suggest that antiapoptotic and pro-survival mechanisms collaborate to sustain the viability of F. tularensis infected neutrophils.
PMCID: PMC3703778  PMID: 22986450
neutrophil; polymorphonuclear leukocyte; apoptosis; gene expression; microarray; tularemia; XIAP; BAX
7.  Staphylococcus aureus Leukotoxin GH Promotes Inflammation 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;206(8):1185-1193.
Background. Staphylococcus aureus produces numerous molecules that facilitate survival in the host. We recently identified a novel S. aureus leukotoxin (leukotoxin GH [LukGH]) using proteomics, but its role in virulence remains unclear. Here we investigated the role of LukGH in vivo.
Methods. We tested cytotoxicity of LukGH toward polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) from mice, rabbits, monkeys, and humans. LukGH was administered to mice, rabbits, and a cynomolgus monkey by subcutaneous or intradermal injection to assess cytotoxicity or host response in vivo. The effects of LukGH in vivo were compared with those of Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), a well-characterized S. aureus leukotoxin. The contribution of LukGH to S. aureus infection was tested using mouse and rabbit infection models.
Results. Susceptibility of PMNs to LukGH was similar between humans and cynomolgus monkeys, and was greater than that of rabbits, which in turn was greater than that of mice. LukGH or PVL caused skin inflammation in rabbits and a monkey, but deletion of neither lukGH nor lukGH and lukS/F-PV reduced severity of USA300 infections in rabbits or mice. Rather, some disease parameters (eg, rabbit abscess size) were increased following infection with a lukGH and lukS/F-PV deletion strain.
Conclusions. Our findings indicate that S. aureus leukotoxins enhance the host inflammatory response and influence the outcome of infection.
PMCID: PMC3448972  PMID: 22872735
8.  A NET Outcome 
Neutrophils constitute a critical part of innate immunity and are well known for their ability to phagocytose and kill invading microorganisms. The microbicidal processes employed by neutrophils are highly effective at killing most ingested bacteria and fungi. However, an alternative non-phagocytic antimicrobial mechanism of neutrophils has been proposed whereby microorganisms are eliminated by neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NETs are comprised of DNA, histones, and antimicrobial proteins extruded by neutrophils during NETosis, a cell death pathway reported to be distinct from apoptosis, phagocytosis-induced cell death, and necrosis. Although multiple laboratories have reported NETs using various stimuli in vitro, the molecular mechanisms involved in this process have yet to be definitively elucidated, and many questions regarding the formation and putative role or function of NETs in innate host defense remain unanswered. It is with these questions in mind that we provide some reflection and perspective on NETs and NETosis.
PMCID: PMC3514450  PMID: 23227026
neutrophil; apoptosis; necrosis; phagocytosis; inflammation
9.  Reemergence of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in the genomics era  
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2009;119(9):2464-2474.
Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of bacterial infections in developed countries and produces a wide spectrum of diseases, ranging from minor skin infections to fatal necrotizing pneumonia. Although S. aureus infections were historically treatable with common antibiotics, emergence of drug-resistant organisms is now a major concern. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) was endemic in hospitals by the late 1960s, but it appeared rapidly and unexpectedly in communities in the 1990s and is now prevalent worldwide. This Review focuses on progress made toward understanding the success of community-associated MRSA as a human pathogen, with an emphasis on genome-wide approaches and virulence determinants.
PMCID: PMC2735934  PMID: 19729844
10.  Panton-Valentine leukocidin is not a virulence determinant in murine models of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus disease 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2008;198(8):1166-1170.
Increases in the incidence and severity of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections have spawned efforts to define unique virulence properties among prevalent strains. Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), a pore-forming cytotoxin, has garnered attention due to its epidemiologic association with CA-MRSA. Using the clinical isolate LAC, representative of the epidemic USA300 strain, and its isogenic PVL-negative strain in murine models of staphylococcal skin infection and pneumonia, we have extended recent studies by assessing the contribution of PVL in the BALB/c genetic background. The data herein support the observation that PVL does not contribute to the pathogenesis of staphylococcal infection of mice.
PMCID: PMC2574921  PMID: 18729780
Community-associated methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA); Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL); USA300; skin infection; pneumonia; animal models
11.  Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
Lancet  2010;375(9725):1557-1568.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is endemic in hospitals worldwide and a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. Healthcare-associated MRSA infections occur in individuals with predisposing risk factors for disease, such as surgery or presence of an indwelling medical device. By contrast, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections often occur in otherwise healthy individuals who lack such risk factors. In addition, CA-MRSA infections are epidemic in some countries. These observations suggest that CA-MRSA strains are more virulent and transmissible than traditional hospital-associated MRSA strains. Relatively limited treatment options for CA-MRSA infections compound the problem of enhanced virulence and transmission. Although progress has been made toward understanding emergence of CA-MRSA, virulence, and treatment of infections, our knowledge in these areas remains incomplete. Here were review the most current knowledge in these areas and provide perspective on future outlook for prophylaxis and/or new therapies for CA-MRSA infections.
PMCID: PMC3511788  PMID: 20206987
12.  Towards a comprehensive understanding of the role of neutrophils in innate immunity: a systems biology-level approach 
The innate immune system is the first line of host defense against invading microorganisms. Polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs or neutrophils) are the most abundant leukocyte in humans and essential to the innate immune response against invading pathogens. Compared to the acquired immune response, which requires time to develop and is dependent on previous interaction with specific microbes, the ability of neutrophils to kill microorganisms is immediate, non-specific, and not dependent on previous exposure to microorganisms. Historically, studies of PMN-pathogen interaction focused on the events leading to killing of microorganisms, such as recruitment/chemotaxis, transmigration, phagocytosis, and activation, whereas post-phagocytosis sequelae were infrequently considered. In addition, it was widely accepted that human neutrophils possessed limited capacity for new gene transcription and thus, relatively little biosynthetic capacity. This notion has changed dramatically within the past decade. Further, there is now more effort directed to understand the events occurring in PMNs after killing of microbes. Herein we review the systems biology-level approaches that have been used to gain an enhanced view of the role of neutrophils during host-pathogen interaction. We anticipate that these and future systems-level studies will ultimately will provide information critical to our understanding, treatment, and control of diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms.
PMCID: PMC3501127  PMID: 20836000
Neutrophil; phagocytosis; microarray; inflammation; apoptosis
13.  Toward an Understanding of the Evolution of Staphylococcus aureus Strain USA300 during Colonization in Community Households 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2012;4(12):1275-1285.
Staphylococcus aureus is a frequent cause of serious infections and also a human commensal. The emergence of community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus led to a dramatic increase in skin and soft tissue infections worldwide. This epidemic has been driven by a limited number of clones, such as USA300 in the United States. To better understand the extent of USA300 evolution and diversification within communities, we performed comparative whole-genome sequencing of three clinical and five colonizing USA300 isolates collected longitudinally from three unrelated households over a 15-month period. Phylogenetic analysis that incorporated additional geographically diverse USA300 isolates indicated that all but one likely arose from a common recent ancestor. Although limited genetic adaptation occurred over the study period, the greatest genetic heterogeneity occurred between isolates from different households and within one heavily colonized household. This diversity allowed for a more accurate tracking of interpersonal USA300 transmission. Sequencing of persisting USA300 isolates revealed mutations in genes involved in major aspects of S. aureus function: adhesion, cell wall biosynthesis, virulence, and carbohydrate metabolism. Genetic variations also included accumulation of multiple polymorphisms within select genes of two multigene operons, suggestive of small genome rearrangements rather than de novo single point mutations. Such rearrangements have been underappreciated in S. aureus and may represent novel means of strain variation. Subtle genetic changes may contribute to USA300 fitness and persistence. Elucidation of small genome rearrangements reveals a potentially new and intriguing mechanism of directed S. aureus genome diversification in environmental niches and during pathogen–host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3542572  PMID: 23104992
evolution; genome rearrangement; repeat deletions
14.  Comparative Analysis of USA300 Virulence Determinants in a Rabbit Model of Skin and Soft Tissue Infection 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2011;204(6):937-941.
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.
PMCID: PMC3156927  PMID: 21849291
15.  Innate Immunity against Granulibacter bethesdensis, an Emerging Gram-Negative Bacterial Pathogen 
Infection and Immunity  2012;80(3):975-981.
Acetic acid bacteria were previously considered nonpathogenic in humans. However, over the past decade, five genera of Acetobacteraceae have been isolated from patients with inborn or iatrogenic immunodeficiencies. Here, we describe the first studies of the interactions of the human innate immune system with a member of this bacterial family, Granulibacter bethesdensis, an emerging pathogen in patients with chronic granulomatous disease (CGD). Efficient phagocytosis of G. bethesdensis by normal and CGD polymorphonuclear leukocytes (CGD PMN) required heat-labile serum components (e.g., C3), and binding of C3 and C9 to G. bethesdensis was detected by immunoblotting. However, this organism survived in human serum concentrations of ≥90%, indicating a high degree of serum resistance. Consistent with the clinical host tropism of G. bethesdensis, CGD PMN were unable to kill this organism, while normal PMN, in the presence of serum, reduced the number of CFU by about 50% after a 24-h coculture. This finding, together with the observations that G. bethesdensis was sensitive to H2O2 but resistant to LL-37, a human cationic antimicrobial peptide, suggests an inherent resistance to O2-independent killing. Interestingly, 10 to 100 times greater numbers of G. bethesdensis were required to achieve the same level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production induced by Escherichia coli in normal PMN. In addition to the relative inability of the organism to elicit production of PMN ROS, G. bethesdensis inhibited both constitutive and FAS-induced PMN apoptosis. These properties of reduced PMN activation and resistance to nonoxidative killing mechanisms likely play an important role in G. bethesdensis pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3294668  PMID: 22184421
16.  Presence of Genes Encoding Panton-Valentine Leukocidin Is Not the Primary Determinant of Outcome in Patients with Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia Due to Staphylococcus aureus 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(3):848-856.
The impact of Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) on the outcome in Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia is controversial. We genotyped S. aureus isolates from patients with hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) enrolled in two registrational multinational clinical trials for the genetic elements carrying pvl and 30 other virulence genes. A total of 287 isolates (173 methicillin-resistant S. aureus [MRSA] and 114 methicillin-susceptible S. aureus [MSSA] isolates) from patients from 127 centers in 34 countries for whom clinical outcomes of cure or failure were available underwent genotyping. Of these, pvl was detected by PCR and its product confirmed in 23 isolates (8.0%) (MRSA, 18/173 isolates [10.4%]; MSSA, 5/114 isolates [4.4%]). The presence of pvl was not associated with a higher risk for clinical failure (4/23 [17.4%] versus 48/264 [18.2%]; P = 1.00) or mortality. These findings persisted after adjustment for multiple potential confounding variables. No significant associations between clinical outcome and (i) presence of any of the 30 other virulence genes tested, (ii) presence of specific bacterial clone, (iii) levels of alpha-hemolysin, or (iv) delta-hemolysin production were identified. This study suggests that neither pvl presence nor in vitro level of alpha-hemolysin production is the primary determinant of outcome among patients with HAP caused by S. aureus.
PMCID: PMC3295120  PMID: 22205797
17.  Genomic Analysis of the Emergence of Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
mBio  2012;3(4):e00170-12.
Staphylococcus aureus is a human commensal bacterium and a prominent cause of infections globally. The high incidence of S. aureus infections is compounded by the ability of the microbe to readily acquire resistance to antibiotics. In the United States, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality by a single infectious agent. Therapeutic options for severe MRSA infections are limited to a few antibiotics to which the organism is typically susceptible, including vancomycin. Acquisition of high-level vancomycin resistance by MRSA is a major concern, but to date, there have been only 12 vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA) isolates reported in the United States and all belong to a phylogenetic lineage known as clonal complex 5. To gain enhanced understanding of the genetic characteristics conducive to the acquisition of vancomycin resistance by S. aureus, V. N. Kos et al. performed whole-genome sequencing of all 12 VRSA isolates and compared the DNA sequences to the genomes of other S. aureus strains. The findings provide new information about the evolutionary history of VRSA and identify genetic features that may bear on the relationship between S. aureus clonal complex 5 strains and the acquisition of vancomycin resistance genes from enterococci.
PMCID: PMC3388890  PMID: 22736541
18.  Reply to Kernodle 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2011;203(11):1693-1694.
PMCID: PMC3096787
19.  Comparative analysis of virulence and toxin expression of global community-associated MRSA strains 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2010;202(12):1866-1876.
The current pandemic of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) skin infections is caused by several genetically unrelated clones. Here, we analyzed virulence of globally occurring CA-MRSA strains in a rabbit skin infection model. We used rabbits because neutrophils from this animal species have relatively high sensitivity to Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), a toxin epidemiologically correlated with many CA-MRSA infections. Virulence in the rabbit model correlated with in-vitro neutrophil lysis and transcript levels of phenol-soluble modulin α and α-toxin, but not PVL genes. Furthermore, abscesses caused by USA300 and its PVL-negative progenitor USA500 were comparatively large and similar in size, suggesting PVL has had a limited role in the evolution of USA300 virulence in the context of skin infections. Our study indicates a major but not exclusive impact of virulence on the epidemiological success of USA300 and other CA-MRSA strains and emphasizes the importance of core genome-encoded toxins in CA-MRSA skin infections.
PMCID: PMC3058913  PMID: 21050125
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; community-associated infections; agr; alpha-toxin; phenol-soluble modulin; Panton-Valentine leukocidin
20.  Comparative Analysis of Virulence and Toxin Expression of Global Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Strains 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2010;202(12):1866-1876.
The current pandemic of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) skin infections is caused by several genetically unrelated clones. Here, we analyzed virulence of globally occurring CA-MRSA strains in a rabbit skin infection model. We used rabbits because neutrophils from this animal species have relatively high sensitivity to Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), a toxin epidemiologically correlated with many CA-MRSA infections. Virulence in the rabbit model correlated with in vitro neutrophil lysis and transcript levels of phenol-soluble modulin a and a-toxin, but not PVL genes. Furthermore, abscesses caused by USA300 and its PVL-negative progenitor USA500 were comparatively large and similar in size, suggesting that PVL has played a limited role in the evolution of USA300 virulence in the context of skin infections. Our study indicates a major but not exclusive impact of virulence on the epidemiological success of USA300 and other CA-MRSA strains and emphasizes the importance of core genome-encoded toxins in CA-MRSA skin infections.
PMCID: PMC3058913  PMID: 21050125
21.  Neutrophils in innate host defense against Staphylococcus aureus infections 
Seminars in Immunopathology  2011;34(2):237-259.
Staphylococcus aureus has been an important human pathogen throughout history and is currently a leading cause of bacterial infections worldwide. S. aureus has the unique ability to cause a continuum of diseases, ranging from minor skin infections to fatal necrotizing pneumonia. Moreover, the emergence of highly virulent, drug-resistant strains such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus in both healthcare and community settings is a major therapeutic concern. Neutrophils are the most prominent cellular component of the innate immune system and provide an essential primary defense against bacterial pathogens such as S. aureus. Neutrophils are rapidly recruited to sites of infection where they bind and ingest invading S. aureus, and this process triggers potent oxidative and non-oxidative antimicrobial killing mechanisms that serve to limit pathogen survival and dissemination. S. aureus has evolved numerous mechanisms to evade host defense strategies employed by neutrophils, including the ability to modulate normal neutrophil turnover, a process critical to the resolution of acute inflammation. Here we provide an overview of the role of neutrophils in host defense against bacterial pathogens and discuss strategies employed by S. aureus to circumvent neutrophil function.
PMCID: PMC3271231  PMID: 22080185
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; Neutrophil; Immune evasion
22.  Targeting of alpha-hemolysin by active or passive immunization decreases severity of USA300 skin infections in a mouse model 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2010;202(7):1050-1058.
Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections are predominantly those affecting skin and soft tissues. Although progress has been made, our knowledge of the molecules that contribute to the pathogenesis of CA-MRSA skin infections is incomplete. Here we tested the hypothesis that alpha-hemolysin (Hla) contributes to severity of USA300 skin infections in mice and determined whether vaccination against Hla reduces disease severity. Compared with wild-type USA300 and Newman strains, isogenic hla-negative (Δhla) strains caused significantly smaller skin lesions in a mouse infection model. Moreover, infection with wild-type strains produced dermonecrotic skin lesions, whereas there was little or no dermonecrosis in mice infected with Δhla strains. Passive immunization with Hla-specific antisera or active immunization with a non-toxigenic form of Hla significantly reduced the size of skin lesions caused by USA300 and prevented dermonecrosis. We conclude Hla is a potential target for therapeutics or vaccines designed to moderate severe S. aureus skin infections.
PMCID: PMC2945289  PMID: 20726702
alpha-hemolysin; MRSA; skin infection; Staphylococcus aureus; vaccine
23.  Hemoglobin Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Nasal Colonization 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(7):e1002104.
Staphylococcus aureus nasal colonization is an important risk factor for community and nosocomial infection. Despite the importance of S. aureus to human health, molecular mechanisms and host factors influencing nasal colonization are not well understood. To identify host factors contributing to nasal colonization, we collected human nasal secretions and analyzed their ability to promote S. aureus surface colonization. Some individuals produced secretions possessing the ability to significantly promote S. aureus surface colonization. Nasal secretions pretreated with protease no longer promoted S. aureus surface colonization, suggesting the involvement of protein factors. The major protein components of secretions were identified and subsequent analysis revealed that hemoglobin possessed the ability to promote S. aureus surface colonization. Immunoprecipitation of hemoglobin from nasal secretions resulted in reduced S. aureus surface colonization. Furthermore, exogenously added hemoglobin significantly decreased the inoculum necessary for nasal colonization in a rodent model. Finally, we found that hemoglobin prevented expression of the agr quorum sensing system and that aberrant constitutive expression of the agr effector molecule, RNAIII, resulted in reduced nasal colonization of S. aureus. Collectively our results suggest that the presence of hemoglobin in nasal secretions contributes to S. aureus nasal colonization.
Author Summary
Staphylococcus aureus is a medically important human pathogen that is found in the nasal passages of approximately 1/3 of the population. The nose serves as a reservoir for spread of this pathogen and predisposes the host to potential infection. Factors contributing to S. aureus nasal colonization are only beginning to be elucidated. The collection and analysis of human nasal secretions provided evidence that the presence of hemoglobin in nasal secretions can promote S. aureus nasal colonization. Hemoglobin reduced expression of the S. aureus agr quorum sensing regulatory system known to be involved in surface colonization, and it was found that induction of the agr system reduced nasal colonization. These findings suggest that individuals experiencing frequent nosebleeds would be prone to S. aureus colonization and epidemiological data supports these findings. By understanding host factors and bacterial molecular mechanisms involved in nasal colonization we may one day be able to design novel decolonization strategies.
PMCID: PMC3131264  PMID: 21750673
24.  Acyl Homoserine Lactones from Culture Supernatants of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Accelerate Host Immunomodulation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20860.
The virulence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is multifactorial and under the control of quorum sensing signals, such as acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs). The importance of these molecules in the establishment of infection has been previously reported. These molecules either improve the virulence potential of P. aeruginosa or modulate the host immune response. To establish the immune modulating potential of quorum sensing signal molecules, previous studies have only used synthetic AHLs. However, there can be differences in the biological properties of synthetic and natural AHLs. The use of naturally extracted AHLs from the culture supernatant of P. aeruginosa is likely to simulate natural conditions more than the use of synthetic AHLs. Therefore, in the present study, the immune modulating potential of synthetic and naturally extracted AHLs was compared using a thymidine uptake assay, immunophenotyping and sandwich ELISA in order to assess mouse T-cell proliferation and production of Th1 and Th2 cytokines. Natural AHLs were able to suppress T-cell proliferation, even at low concentrations, compared to synthetic AHLs. The majority of cells undergoing proliferation were CD4+, as revealed by immunophenotyping. The inhibition of T-cells was stronger with natural AHLs compared to synthetic AHLs. Moreover, the natural AHLs were also able to shift immune responses away from host protective Th1 responses to pathogen protective Th2 responses.
PMCID: PMC3116856  PMID: 21698201
25.  Relative contribution of Panton-Valentine leukocidin to PMN plasma membrane permeability and lysis caused by USA300 and USA400 culture supernatants 
Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) is a cytolytic toxin associated with severe community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infections. However, the relative contribution of PVL to host cell lysis during CA-MRSA infection remains unknown. Here we investigated the relative contribution of PVL to human polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) plasma membrane permeability and lysis in vitro by using culture supernatants from wild-type and isogenic lukS/F-PV-negative (Δpvl) USA300 and USA400 strains. Using S. aureus culture conditions that favor selective high production of PVL (CCY media), there was on average more PMN plasma membrane permeability and cell lysis caused by supernatants derived from wild-type strains compared with those from Δpvl strains. Unexpectedly, plasma membrane permeability did not necessarily correlate with ultimate cell lysis. Moreover, the level of pore formation caused by culture supernatants varied dramatically (e.g., range was 0.32–99.09% for wild-type USA300 supernatants at 30 min) and was not attributable to differences in PMN susceptibility to PVL among human blood donors. We conclude that PMN pore formation assays utilizing S. aureus culture supernatants have limited ability to estimate the relative contribution of PVL to pathogenesis (or cytolysis in vitro or in vivo), especially when assayed using culture media that promotes selective high production of PVL.
PMCID: PMC2883622  PMID: 20172045

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