Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification and characterization of an operon, msaABCR, that controls virulence and biofilm development in Staphylococcus aureus

Gyan S Sahukhal and Mohamed O Elasri

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi 39406-0001, USA

BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:154  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-154

Published: 11 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Community-acquired, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains often cause localized infections in immunocompromised hosts, but some strains show enhanced virulence leading to severe infections even among healthy individuals with no predisposing risk factors. The genetic basis for this enhanced virulence has yet to be determined. S. aureus possesses a wide variety of virulence factors, the expression of which is carefully coordinated by a variety of regulators. Several virulence regulators have been well characterized, but others have yet to be thoroughly investigated. Previously, we identified the msa gene as a regulator of several virulence genes, biofilm development, and antibiotic resistance. We also found evidence of the involvement of upstream genes in msa function.

Results

To investigate the mechanism of regulation of the msa gene (renamed msaC), we examined the upstream genes whose expression was affected by its deletion. We showed that msaC is part of a newly defined four-gene operon (msaABCR), in which msaC is a non-protein-coding RNA that is essential for the function of the operon. Furthermore, we found that an antisense RNA (msaR) is complementary to the 5′ end of the msaB gene and is expressed in a growth phase-dependent manner suggesting that it is involved in regulation of the operon.

Conclusion

These findings allow us to define a new operon that regulates fundamental phenotypes in S. aureus such as biofilm development and virulence. Characterization of the msaABCR operon will allow us to investigate the mechanism of function of this operon and the role of the individual genes in regulation and interaction with its targets. This study identifies a new element in the complex regulatory circuits in S. aureus, and our findings may be therapeutically relevant.

Keywords:
Staphylococcus aureus; msaABCR operon; Biofilm; Virulence factor