AraC-type regulator Rsp adapts Staphylococcus aureus gene expression to acute infection

Infect Immun. 2015 Dec 28. pii: IAI.01088-15. [Epub ahead of print]


Staphylococcus aureus is an important human pathogen that can cause two categories of severe infections. Acute infections are characterized by pronounced toxin production, while chronic infections often involve biofilm formation. However, it is poorly understood how S. aureus controls the expression of genes associated with acute versus biofilm-associated virulence. We here identified an AraC-type transcriptional regulator, Rsp, that promotes the production of key toxins while repressing major biofilm-associated genes and biofilm formation. Genome-wide transcriptional analysis and modeling of regulatory networks indicated that up-regulation of the accessory gene regulator (Agr) and down-regulation of the ica operon coding for the biofilm exopolysaccharide, polysaccharide intercellular adhesin (PIA), were central to the regulatory impact of Rsp on virulence. Notably, the Rsp protein directly bound to the agrP2 and icaADBC promoters, resulting in strongly increased levels of the Agr-controlled toxins, PSMs and α-toxin, and reduced production of PIA. Accordingly, Rsp was essential for the development of bacteremia and skin infection, representing major types of acute S. aureus infection. Our findings give important insight into how S. aureus adapts expression of its broad arsenal of virulence genes to promote different types of disease manifestations and identify the Rsp regulator as a potential target for strategies to control acute S. aureus infection.