Staphylococcus aureus resistance to human defensins and evasion of neutrophil killing via the novel virulence factor MprF is based on modification of membrane lipids with l-lysine

J Exp Med. 2001 May 7;193(9):1067-76. doi: 10.1084/jem.193.9.1067.


Defensins, antimicrobial peptides of the innate immune system, protect human mucosal epithelia and skin against microbial infections and are produced in large amounts by neutrophils. The bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is insensitive to defensins by virtue of an unknown resistance mechanism. We describe a novel staphylococcal gene, mprF, which determines resistance to several host defense peptides such as defensins and protegrins. An mprF mutant strain was killed considerably faster by human neutrophils and exhibited attenuated virulence in mice, indicating a key role for defensin resistance in the pathogenicity of S. aureus. Analysis of membrane lipids demonstrated that the mprF mutant no longer modifies phosphatidylglycerol with l-lysine. As this unusual modification leads to a reduced negative charge of the membrane surface, MprF-mediated peptide resistance is most likely based on repulsion of the cationic peptides. Accordingly, inactivation of mprF led to increased binding of antimicrobial peptides by the bacteria. MprF has no similarity with genes of known function, but related genes were identified in the genomes of several pathogens including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterococcus faecalis. MprF thus constitutes a novel virulence factor, which may be of general relevance for bacterial pathogens and represents a new target for attacking multidrug resistant bacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Aminoacyltransferases
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Defensins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Esterification
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Peptides / pharmacology
  • Phosphatidylglycerols / metabolism*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity
  • Swine
  • Virulence
  • alpha-Defensins / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Defensins
  • Peptides
  • Phosphatidylglycerols
  • alpha-Defensins
  • human neutrophil peptide 1
  • human neutrophil peptide 2
  • human neutrophil peptide 3
  • Aminoacyltransferases
  • mprF protein, Staphylococcus aureus
  • Lysine

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF145698
  • GENBANK/AF145699