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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Mar;73(6):1873-81. Epub 2007 Jan 26.

Piezotolerant small-colony variants with increased thermotolerance, antibiotic susceptibility, and low invasiveness in a clonal Staphylococcus aureus population.

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  • 1University of Bristol, School of Clinical Veterinary Science, Veterinary Pathology and Infection and Immunity, Langford House, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, United Kingdom.


Following a pressure treatment of a clonal Staphylococcus aureus culture with 400 MPa for 30 min, piezotolerant variants were isolated. Among 21 randomly selected survivors, 9 were piezotolerant and all formed small colonies on several agar media. The majority of the isolates showed increased thermotolerance, impaired growth, and reduced antibiotic resistance compared to the wild type. However, several nonpiezotolerant isolates also demonstrated impaired growth and the small-colony phenotype. In agglutination tests for the detection of protein A and fibrinogen, the piezotolerant variants showed weaker agglutination reactions than the wild type and the other isolates. All variants also showed defective production of the typical S. aureus golden color, a characteristic which has previously been linked with virulence. They were also less able to invade intestinal epithelial cells than the wild type. These S. aureus variants showed phenotypic similarities to previously isolated Listeria monocytogenes piezotolerant mutants that contained mutations in ctsR. Because of these similarities, possible alterations in the ctsR hypermutable regions of the S. aureus variants were investigated through amplified fragment length polymorphism analysis. No mutations were identified, and subsequently we sequenced the ctsR and hrcA genes of three representative variants, finding no mutations. This work demonstrates that S. aureus probably possesses a strategy resulting in an abundance of multiple-stress-resistant variants within clonal populations. This strategy, however, seems to involve genes and regulatory mechanisms different from those previously reported for L. monocytogenes. We are in the process of identifying these mechanisms.

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