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Infect Immun. 1991 Dec;59(12):4332-7.

Correlation of carotenoid production, decreased membrane fluidity, and resistance to oleic acid killing in Staphylococcus aureus 18Z.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology/Immunology, Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, Missouri.


Staphylococcus aureus is susceptible to killing by host-derived fatty acids. Studies were performed to test for a correlation between carotenoid production by S. aureus and protection against oleic acid. Oleic acid killing of cells grown in carotenoid expression medium was determined as the dosage of oleic acid in 2 M NaCl-2 mM EDTA that would kill 20% of the cells in 60 min at 37 degrees C (i.e., the 20% lethal dose). Compared with the wild-type strain (18Z), a carotenoid-deficient mutant strain (18Z-76) and strain 18Z grown in a medium that suppressed carotenoid production both showed increased sensitivity to oleic acid. Spontaneous revertants of strain 18Z-76 that regained the ability to produce carotenoids were as resistant to oleic acid as the wild-type strain. Oleic acid was shown by fluorescence polarization to decrease polarization values. Lower polarization values indicate a more-fluid membrane. To determine whether protection against oleic acid killing might depend on carotenoid stabilization of membranes, fluorescence polarization values were determined for strains showing different levels of carotenoid production. An indirect correlation was found between membrane fluidity and carotenoid production. We were able to conclude that there is a direct correlation between carotenoid production (i.e., cell pigmentation), cell membrane stability, and resistance to oleic acid-induced cell killing.

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