The roles of two adjacent genes in the Staphylococcus aureus chromosome with functions in starvation survival and the response to stressful conditions have been characterized. One of these, hprT, encoding a hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase homologue, was initially identified in a transposon mutagenesis screen. Mutation of hprT affects starvation survival in amino-acid-limiting conditions and the ability of S. aureus to grow in high-salt concentrations. Downstream of hprT is ftsH, which encodes a membrane-bound, ATP- and Zn(2+)-dependent 'AAA'-type protease. Mutation of ftsH in S. aureus leads to pleiotropic defects including slower growth, sensitivity to salt, acid, methyl viologen and potassium tellurite stresses, and reduced survival in amino-acid- or phosphate-limiting conditions. Both hprT-lacZ and ftsH-lacZ gene fusions are expressed maximally in the post-exponential phase of growth. Although secretion of exoproteins is not affected, an ftsH mutant is attenuated in a murine skin lesion model of pathogenicity.