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Genes key to staph disease severity, drug resistance found hitchhiking together
Date:7/31/2009

illing human white blood cells called neutrophils. This process is critical for the ability of S. aureusincluding community-acquired MRSAto cause disease.

While screening S. aureus and S. epidermidis strains, Dr. Otto's group noticed that some strains produced one additional, previously unknown, PSM toxin. The researchers hypothesized that the toxin was somehow connected to drug resistance. This idea surfaced because the toxin appeared in 10 percent of all MRSA strains and 68 percent of all methicillin-resistant S. epidermidis strains analyzedwhereas the researchers did not find it in strains of S. aureus or S. epidermidis that are sensitive to methicillin.

The research group confirmed its theory by identifying the specific location that encodes the toxin, which was in gene clusters that control drug resistance, known as SCCmec. The group named the new toxin PSM-mec.

"This work represents a previously unknown example of a toxin hitchhiking on staphylococcal mobile genetic elements that are primarily in charge of transferring antibiotic resistance," says Dr. Otto. He adds that the finding "should alert the research community that aggressive, drug-resistant staph can evolve more quickly than we assumed."

The research group is continuing its study of PSM-mec in S. epidermidis, where the toxin is more prevalent. Ultimately, being able to neutralize PSM-mec and other toxins that attack human defenses could lead to new treatments for S. aureus and S. epidermidis disease.


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Contact: Ken Pekoc
kpekoc@niaid.nih.gov
406-375-9690
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Source:Eurekalert

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