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J Bacteriol. Aug 1997; 179(15): 4706–4712.
PMCID: PMC179315

A site-directed Staphylococcus aureus hemB mutant is a small-colony variant which persists intracellularly.


Although small-colony variants (SCVs) of Staphylococcus aureus have been recognized for many years, this phenotype has only recently been related to persistent and recurrent infections. Clinical S. aureus SCVs are frequently auxotrophic for menadione or hemin, two compounds involved in the biosynthesis of the electron transport chain elements menaquinone and cytochromes, respectively. While this observation as well as other biochemical characteristics of SCVs suggests a link between electron-transport-defective strains and persistent infections, the strains examined thus far have been genetically undefined SCVs. Therefore, we generated a stable mutant in electron transport by interrupting one of the hemin biosynthetic genes, hemB, in S. aureus by inserting an ermB cassette into hemB. We isolated a hemB mutant, due to homologous recombination, by growth at a nonpermissive temperature and selection for erythromycin resistance. This mutant showed typical characteristics of clinical SCVs, such as slow growth, decreased pigment formation, low coagulase activity, reduced hemolytic activity, and resistance to aminoglycosides. Additionally, the mutant was able to persist within cultured endothelial cells due to decreased alpha-toxin production. Northern and Western blot analyses showed that expression of alpha-toxin and that of protein A were markedly reduced, at both the mRNA and the protein level. The SCV phenotype of the hemB mutant was reversed by growth with hemin or by complementation with intact hemB. Hence, a defect in the electron transport system allows S. aureus SCVs to resist aminoglycosides and persist intracellularly.

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