The nitrosative stress response of Staphylococcus aureus is required for resistance to innate immunity


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Staphylococcus aureus is a highly virulent human pathogen with an extensive array of strategies to subvert the innate immune response. An important aspect of innate immunity is the production of the nitrogen monoxide radical (Nitric Oxide, NO·). Here we describe an adaptive response to nitrosative stress that allows S. aureus to replicate at high concentrations of NO·. Microarray analysis revealed 84 staphylococcal genes with significantly altered expression following NO· exposure. Of these, 30 are involved with iron-homeostasis, potentially under the control of the Fur regulator. Another seven induced genes are involved in hypoxic/fermentative metabolism, including the flavohaemoprotein, Hmp. The SrrAB two-component system has been shown to regulate the expression of many of the NO·-induced metabolic genes. Indeed, inactivation of hmp, srrAB and fur resulted in heightened NO· sensitivity. Hmp was responsible for c. 90% of measurable staphylococcal NO· consumption and therefore critical for efficient NO· detoxification. While SrrAB was required for maximal hmp expression, srrAB mutants still exhibited significant NO· scavenging and NO·-dependent induction of hmp. Yet S. aureus lacking SrrAB were more sensitive to nitrosative stress than hmp mutants, indicating that the contribution of SrrAB to NO· resistance extends beyond the regulation of hmp expression. Both Hmp and SrrAB were required for full virulence in a murine sepsis model, however, only the attenuation of the hmp mutant was restored by the abrogation of host NO· production. Thus, the S. aureus Hmp protein has evolved to serve as an iNOS-dependent virulence determinant.