Heat-shock proteins are essential for stress tolerance and allowing organisms to survive conditions that cause protein unfolding. The role of the Staphylococcus aureus DnaK system in tolerance of various stresses was studied by disruption of dnaK by partial deletion and insertion of a kanamycin gene cassette. Deletion of dnaK in S. aureus strain COL resulted in poor growth at temperatures of 37 degrees C and above, and reduced carotenoid production. The mutant strain also exhibited increased susceptibility to oxidative and cell-wall-active antibiotic stress conditions. In addition, the mutant strain had slower rates of autolysis, suggesting a correlation between DnaK and functional expression of staphylococcal autolysins. Deletion of dnaK also resulted in a decrease in the ability of the organism to survive in a mouse host during a systemic infection. In summary, the DnaK system in S. aureus plays a significant role in the survival of S. aureus under various stress conditions.