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Commun Integr Biol. 2012 May 1;5(3):275-7. doi: 10.4161/cib.19420.

Phenol-soluble modulins in staphylococci: What are they originally for?

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Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section; Laboratory of Human Bacterial Pathogenesis; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); The National Institutes of Health (NIH); Bethesda, MD USA.


Phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) are amphipathic peptides produced by staphylococci that have multiple functions in pathogenesis. For example, they may function as cytotoxins and pro-inflammatory agents. Additionally, in a recent study we demonstrated that Staphylococcus aureus PSMs structure biofilms and cause dissemination during biofilm infection. Based on those results suggesting a surfactant-like mechanism by which PSMs work, we here propose that all PSM functions in pathogenesis arose from an original role in non-pathogenic surface colonization. This original role may have included overcoming surface tension in environments of strongly varying hydrophobicity and emulsification of hydrophobic molecules for use as food sources.


Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; biofilm; colonization; toxins

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