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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59232. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059232. Epub 2013 Mar 12.

Stably luminescent Staphylococcus aureus clinical strains for use in bioluminescent imaging.

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Division of Bacterial, Parasitic, and Allergenic Products, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD, USA.


In vivo bioluminescent imaging permits the visualization of bacteria in live animals, allowing researchers to monitor, both temporally and spatially, the progression of infection in each animal. We sought to engineer stably luminescent clinical strains of Staphylococcus aureus, with the goal of using such strains in mouse models. The gram-positive shuttle vector pMAD was used as the backbone for an integration plasmid. A chloramphenicol resistance gene, a modified lux operon from Photorhabdus luminescens, and approximately 650 bp of homology to the chromosome of the USA300 S. aureus strain NRS384 were added, generating plasmid pRP1195. Electroporation into strain RN4220 followed by temperature shift led to integration of pRP1195 into the chromosome. The integrated plasmid was transferred to clinical strains by phage transduction. Luminescent strains displayed no in vitro growth defects. Moreover, luminescence was stable in vitro after three rounds of subculture over 48 hours of growth in the absence of antibiotics. Mice were infected with a luminescent strain of NRS384 in skin and intravenous models. In a mouse skin model, luminescent bacteria were present in lesions that formed and cleared over the course of several days, and in an intravenous model, bacteria inoculated in the mouse tail vein were observed spreading to multiple tissues. No statistically significant difference in virulence was observed between NRS384 and the luminescent strain in either infection model. These preliminary data suggest that this luminescent USA300 strain is suitable for use in mouse models. Similar strains were engineered using other sequenced clinical strains. Because these strains are stably luminescent, they should prove useful in animal models of infection.

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