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J Bacteriol. 2010 Feb;192(3):613-23. doi: 10.1128/JB.01242-09. Epub 2009 Nov 20.

Differential target gene activation by the Staphylococcus aureus two-component system saeRS.

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Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.


The saePQRS system of Staphylococcus aureus controls the expression of major virulence factors and encodes a histidine kinase (SaeS), a response regulator (SaeR), a membrane protein (SaeQ), and a lipoprotein (SaeP). The widely used strain Newman is characterized by a single amino acid change in the sensory domain of SaeS (Pro18 in strain Newman [SaeS(P)], compared with Leu18 in other strains [SaeS(L)]). SaeS(P) determines activation of the class I sae target genes (coa, fnbA, eap, sib, efb, fib, sae), which are highly expressed in strain Newman. In contrast, class II target genes (hla, hlb, cap) are not sensitive to the SaeS polymorphism. The SaeS(L) allele (saeS(L)) is dominant over the SaeS(P) allele, as shown by single-copy integration of saePQRS(L) in strain Newman, which results in severe repression of class I target genes. The differential effect on target gene expression is explained by different requirements for SaeR phosphorylation. From an analysis of saeS deletion strains and strains with mutated SaeR phosphorylation sites, we concluded that a high level of SaeR phosphorylation is required for activation of class I target genes. However, a low level of SaeR phosphorylation, which can occur independent of SaeS, is sufficient to activate class II target genes. Using inducible saeRS constructs, we showed that the expression of both types of target genes is independent of the saeRS dosage and that the typical growth phase-dependent gene expression pattern is not driven by SaeRS.

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