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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41329. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041329. Epub 2012 Aug 2.

Changes in the Staphylococcus aureus transcriptome during early adaptation to the lung.

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Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, United States of America.


Staphylococcus aureus is a common inhabitant of the human nasopharynx. It is also a cause of life-threatening illness, producing a potent array of virulence factors that enable survival in normally sterile sites. The transformation of S. aureus from commensal to pathogen is poorly understood. We analyzed S. aureus gene expression during adaptation to the lung using a mouse model of S. aureus pneumonia. Bacteria were isolated by bronchoalveolar lavage after residence in vivo for up to 6 hours. S. aureus in vivo RNA transcription was compared by microarray to that of shake flask grown stationary phase and early exponential phase cells. Compared to in vitro conditions, the in vivo transcriptome was dramatically altered within 30 minutes. Expression of central metabolic pathways changed significantly in response to the lung environment. Gluconeogenesis (fbs, pckA) was down regulated, as was TCA cycle and fermentation pathway gene expression. Genes associated with amino acid synthesis, RNA translation and nitrate respiration were upregulated, indicative of a highly active metabolic state during the first 6 hours in the lung. Virulence factors regulated by agr were down regulated in vivo and in early exponential phase compared to stationary phase cells. Over time in vivo, expression of ahpCF, involved in H(2)O(2) scavenging, and uspA, which encodes a universal stress regulator, increased. Transcription of leukotoxic α and β-type phenol-soluble modulins psmα1-4 and psmβ1-2 increased 13 and 8-fold respectively; hld mRNA, encoding δ-hemolysin, was increased 9-fold. These were the only toxins to be significantly upregulated in vivo. These data provide the first complete survey of the S. aureus transcriptome response to the mammalian airway. The results present intriguing contrasts with previous work in other in vitro and in vivo models and provide novel insights into the adaptive and temporal response of S. aureus early in the pathogenesis of pneumonia.

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