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J Infect Dis. 1995 Aug;172(2):410-9.

Growth of Staphylococcus aureus with nafcillin in vitro induces alpha-toxin production and increases the lethal activity of sterile broth filtrates in a murine model.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.


The morbidity and mortality of Staphylococcus aureus infections remain high despite antibiotic therapy. To investigate further the observation that penicillins increase the hemolytic activity of staphylococcal cultures, 37 strains were grown in broth with and without subinhibitory nafcillin. Nafcillin stimulated hemolytic activity in nafcillin-susceptible and -resistant isolates. Sterile broth filtrates of nafcillin-associated cultures injected intraperitoneally in mice were more rapidly lethal than filtrates of the same strain grown without nafcillin. Lethality was neutralized by anti-alpha-toxin antisera. DNA-RNA hybridization revealed a nafcillin-associated increase in alpha-toxin mRNA during the postexponential growth phase after the activation of agr. Isolates grown in slightly inhibitory nafcillin concentrations had more alpha-toxin mRNA than did nafcillin-free cultures, whereas agr RNAIII levels were comparable. This suggests that nafcillin-induced alpha-toxin production is not entirely attributable to agr. A supplemental regulatory mechanism may be involved.

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