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FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2002 Feb 18;32(3):191-7.

Characteristics of Staphylococcus aureus, isolated from airways of cystic fibrosis patients, and their small colony variants.

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Department of Infectious Biology, Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Lódź, Poland.


The colonization of respiratory tract by Staphylococcus aureus is a frequent feature of cystic fibrosis (CF), especially in pediatric patients. The formation of small colony variants (SCVs), which produce reduced amounts of alpha-toxin, is one of the proposed ways of staphylococcal accommodation in an intracellular niche. The aim of the present study was to compare some properties of S. aureus SCVs and their parent strains. A site-directed S. aureus hemB mutant and parent strain 8325-4 were included in the study (control pair). Normal and SCV strain pairs from CF patients as well as control strains were tested for the susceptibility to defensins, killing activity of professional phagocytes and adhesion to A549 cell line. Because S. aureus are exposed to many cationic proteins in the host, we challenged a clinical isolate with minimal subinhibitory concentration (subMIC) of protamine and found that hemin and menadione auxotrophic SCVs emerged. SCVs were more resistant than normal strains to protamine but not to dermaseptin. The susceptibility to the bactericidal activity of magainin was the same for normal and SCV strains. The protamine resistance of normal as well as SCVs was strongly enhanced by high salt concentration. The adhesion of some SCVs to A549 cells was higher than adhesion of parental strains. However, the number of adherent bacteria (SCVs) was diminished in the presence of hemin for hemin auxotrophs. The uptake of SCVs by granulocytes was lower than ingestion of normal strains, but SCVs were killed with equal or greater potency. SCVs are adapted to intracellular survival and persistence in the host under certain circumstances. The ability to form a variant subpopulation affords S. aureus additional survival options.

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