Send to

Choose Destination
J Infect Dis. 2016 Jan 15;213(2):305-13. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiv388. Epub 2015 Jul 17.

Nonstable Staphylococcus aureus Small-Colony Variants Are Induced by Low pH and Sensitized to Antimicrobial Therapy by Phagolysosomal Alkalinization.

Author information

Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology.
Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Health, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
Division of Surgical Intensive Care, University Hospital Zurich, University of Zurich.



Staphylococcus aureus-infected patients treated with antibiotics that are effective in vitro often experience relapse of infection because the bacteria hide in privileged locations. These locations include abscesses and host cells, which contain low-pH compartments and are sites from which nonstable S. aureus small-colony variants (SCVs) are frequently recovered.


We assessed the effect of low pH on S. aureus colony phenotype and bacterial growth, using in vitro and in vivo models of long-term infection.


We showed that low pH induced nonstable SCVs and nonreplicating persisters that are capable of regrowth. Within host cells, S. aureus was located in phagolysosomes, a low-pH compartment. Therapeutic neutralization of phagolysosomal pH with ammonium chloride, bafilomycin A1, or the antimalaria drug chloroquine reduced SCVs in infected host cells. In a systemic mouse infection model, treatment with chloroquine also reduced SCVs.


Our results show that the acidic environment favors formation of nonstable SCVs, which reflect the SCVs found in clinics. They also provide evidence that treatment with alkalinizing agents, together with antibiotics, may provide a novel translational strategy for eradicating persisting intracellular reservoirs of staphylococci. This approach may also be extended to other intracellular bacteria.


Staphylococcus aureus; antimicrobial therapy; intracellular persistence; relapsing infections; small colony variants

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Silverchair Information Systems Icon for Zurich Open Access Repository and Archive
Loading ...
Support Center