Background: Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA (Methicillin Resistant S. aureus), is an acquired pathogen and the primary cause of nosocomial infections worldwide. In S. aureus, teichoic acid is an essential component of the cell wall, and its biosynthesis is not yet well characterized. Studies in Bacillus subtilis have discovered two different pathways of teichoic acid biosynthesis, in two strains W23 and 168 respectively, namely teichoic acid ribitol (tar) and teichoic acid glycerol (tag). The genes involved in these two pathways are also characterized, tarA, tarB, tarD, tarI, tarJ, tarK, tarL for the tar pathway, and tagA, tagB, tagD, tagE, tagF for the tag pathway. With the genome sequences of several MRSA strains: Mu50, MW2, N315, MRSA252, COL as well as methicillin susceptible strain MSSA476 available, a comparative genomic analysis was performed to characterize teichoic acid biosynthesis in these S. aureus strains.
Results: We identified all S. aureus tar and tag gene orthologs in the selected S. aureus strains which would contribute to teichoic acids sythesis. Based on our identification of genes orthologous to tarI, tarJ, tarL, which are specific to tar pathway in B. subtilis W23, we also concluded that tar is the major teichoic acid biogenesis pathway in S. aureus. Further analyses indicated that the S. aureus tar genes, different from the divergon organization in B. subtilis, are organized into several clusters in cis. Most interesting, compared with genes in B. subtilis tar pathway, the S. aureus tar specific genes (tarI,J,L) are duplicated in all six S. aureus genomes.
Conclusion: In the S. aureus strains we analyzed, tar (teichoic acid ribitol) is the main teichoic acid biogenesis pathway. The tar genes are organized into several genomic groups in cis and the genes specific to tar (relative to tag): tarI, tarJ, tarL are duplicated. The genomic organization of the S. aureus tar pathway suggests their regulations are different when compared to B. subtilis tar or tag pathway, which are grouped in two operons in a divergon structure.