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Microbiology. 2012 Jun;158(Pt 6):1504-1512. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.057018-0. Epub 2012 Mar 22.

Staphylococcus aureus clumping factor B mediates biofilm formation in the absence of calcium.

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Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, PO Box 980678, Richmond, VA 23928, USA.


Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of nosocomial infections and a major cause of community-acquired infections. Biofilm formation is a key virulence determinant in certain types of S. aureus infection, especially those involving inserted medical devices. We found in a previous study that the calcium chelators sodium citrate and EGTA inhibit biofilm formation in certain strains of S. aureus but actually augment biofilm formation in other strains. Even two closely related strains, Newman and 10833, exhibited strikingly different biofilm phenotypes in the presence of calcium chelators, in that biofilm formation was inhibited in Newman but augmented in 10833. We also found that the surface protein clumping factor B (ClfB) plays a role in this phenomenon. In this study, we confirm that ClfB is required for biofilm formation under calcium-depleted conditions. We investigated the post-translational regulation of ClfB-mediated biofilm formation and found evidence that both calcium and the protease aureolysin disrupt established ClfB-dependent biofilms. Finally, we investigated the genetic basis for the biofilm-negative phenotype in strain Newman versus the biofilm-positive phenotype in strain 10833 under calcium-depleted conditions and found that strain 10833 contains a deletion that results in a stop codon within the aureolysin gene (aur). When 10833 expressed Newman aur, surface-associated ClfB and the ability to form a biofilm in chelating conditions was lost. Thus, the positive effect of chelating agents on biofilm formation in certain strains can be explained by increased ClfB activity in the absence of calcium and the discrepancy in the response of strains 10833 and Newman can be explained by point mutations in aur. This study reveals a previously unknown, to our knowledge, role for ClfB in biofilm formation and underscores the potential for striking phenotypic variability resulting from minor differences in strain background.

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