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Microbiology. 2009 Nov;155(Pt 11):3491-3499. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.032466-0. Epub 2009 Aug 6.

Transcription of the phage-encoded Panton-Valentine leukocidin of Staphylococcus aureus is dependent on the phage life-cycle and on the host background.

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Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie und Hygiene, Universitätsklinikum Tübingen, Elfriede-Aulhorn-Str. 6, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.
Robert-Koch-Institut Wernigerode, Burgstr. 37, 38855 Wernigerode, Germany.


Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) is a pore-forming, bi-component toxin secreted by Staphylococcus aureus strains epidemiologically associated with diseases such as necrotizing pneumonia and skin and soft-tissue infections. Here we demonstrate that transcription of the phage-encoded PVL (encoded in the luk-PV operon) is dependent on two major determinants: the phage life-cycle and the host chromosomal background. Mitomycin C induction of PVL-encoding prophages from different community-acquired MRSA strains led to an increase in the amount of luk-PV mRNA as a result of read-through transcription from latent phage promoters and an increase in phage copy numbers. Failing prophage excision was reflected in a constant expression of luk-PV as in the case of strain USA300, suggesting that phi Sa2USA300 is a replication-defective prophage. Additionally, we could show that luk-PV transcription is influenced by the S. aureus global virulence regulators agr and sae. We found a strong impact of the host background on prophage induction and replication when analysing PVL phages in different S. aureus strains. For example phage phi Sa2mw was greatly induced by mitomycin C in its native host MW2 and in strain Newman but to a considerably lesser extent in strains 8325-4, RN6390 and ISP479c. This discrepancy was not linked to the SOS response of the bacteria since recA transcription did not vary between the strains. These results suggest a fine tuning between certain phages and their host, with major impact on the expression of phage-encoded virulence genes.

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