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Int J Med Microbiol. 2014 Mar;304(2):164-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2013.11.019. Epub 2013 Dec 1.

Phenol-soluble modulins.

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Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section, Laboratory of Human Bacterial Pathogenesis, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MA, USA. Electronic address:


PSMs are a recently discovered family of short, amphipathic, α-helical peptides in staphylococci. Several PSMs are key virulence determinants, particularly in highly virulent Staphylococcus aureus strains. PSMα peptides of S. aureus facilitate neutrophil lysis after phagocytosis, and are key contributors to several infection types, including skin infection and bacteremia. Furthermore, all PSMs contribute to biofilm structuring and the dissemination of biofilm-associated infection. Cytolytic PSMs as produced by S. aureus appear to have evolved from original functions in the non-infectious lifestyle of staphylococci. The surfactant properties of PSMs, which they all share, are believed to facilitate growth on epithelial surfaces. The basic role of PSMs in staphylococcal physiology is underscored, for example, by their exceptionally strict and direct control by quorum-sensing and the presence of a dedicated secretion system. Targeting PSMs for anti-staphylococcal drug development may be a promising approach to overcome the problems associated with widespread antibiotic resistance in staphylococci.


Biofilm; Cytolysis; Leukotoxin; Neutrophils; Phenol-soluble modulins; Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; Toxins

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