The gene for toxic shock toxin is carried by a family of mobile pathogenicity islands in Staphylococcus aureus


Richard P. Novick E-mail; Tel. (212) 263 6390; Fax (212) 263 5711.


Tst, the gene for toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1), is part of a 15.2 kb genetic element in Staphylococcus aureus that is absent in TSST-1-negative strains. The prototype, in RN4282, is flanked by a 17 nucleotide direct repeat and contains genes for a second possible superantigen toxin, a Dichelobacter nodosus VapE homologue and a putative integrase. It is readily transferred to a recA recipient, and it always inserts into a unique chromosomal copy of the 17 nucleotide sequence in the same orientation. It is excised and circularized by staphylococcal phages φ13 and 80α and replicates during the growth of the latter, which transduces it at very high frequency. Because of its site and orientation specificity and because it lacks other identifiable phage-like genes, we consider it to be a pathogenicity island (PI) rather than a transposon or a defective phage. The tst element in RN4282, near tyrB, is designated SaPI1. That in RN3984 in the trp region is only partially homologous to SaPI1 and is excised by phage 80 but not by 80α. It is designated SaPI2. These PIs are the first in any Gram-positive species and the first for which mobility has been demonstrated. Their mobility may be responsible for the spread of TSST-1 production among S. aureus strains.