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Infect Immun. 2012 Oct;80(10):3438-53. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00195-12. Epub 2012 Jul 23.

The WalKR system controls major staphylococcal virulence genes and is involved in triggering the host inflammatory response.

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  • 1Institut Pasteur, Biology of Gram-Positive Pathogens, Department of Microbiology, Paris, France.

Abstract

The WalKR two-component system is essential for the viability of Staphylococcus aureus, playing a central role in controlling cell wall metabolism. We produced a constitutively active form of WalR in S. aureus through a phosphomimetic amino acid replacement (WalR(c), D55E). The strain displayed significantly increased biofilm formation and alpha-hemolytic activity. Transcriptome analysis was used to determine the full extent of the WalKR regulon, revealing positive regulation of major virulence genes involved in host matrix interactions (efb, emp, fnbA, and fnbB), cytolysis (hlgACB, hla, and hlb), and innate immune defense evasion (scn, chp, and sbi), through activation of the SaeSR two-component system. The impact on pathogenesis of varying cell envelope dynamics was studied using a murine infection model, showing that strains producing constitutively active WalR(c) are strongly diminished in their virulence due to early triggering of the host inflammatory response associated with higher levels of released peptidoglycan fragments. Indeed, neutrophil recruitment and proinflammatory cytokine production were significantly increased when the constitutively active walR(c) allele was expressed, leading to enhanced bacterial clearance. Taken together, our results indicate that WalKR play an important role in virulence and eliciting the host inflammatory response by controlling autolytic activity.

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