The signal peptide of Staphylococcus aureus panton valentine leukocidin LukS component mediates increased adhesion to heparan sulfates

PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5042. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005042. Epub 2009 Apr 6.


Staphylococcus aureus necrotizing pneumonia is a severe disease caused by S. aureus strains carrying the Panton Valentine leukocidin (PVL) genes (lukS-PV & lukF-PV) encoded on various bacteriophages (such as phiSLT). Clinical PVL+ strains isolated from necrotizing pneumonia display an increased attachment to matrix molecules (type I and IV collagens and laminin), a phenotype that could play a role in bacterial adhesion to damaged airway epithelium during the early stages of necrotizing pneumonia (J Infect Dis 2004; 190: 1506-15). To investigate the basis of the observed adhesion of S. aureus PVL+ strains, we compared the ability of PVL+ and their isogenic PVL(-) strains to attach to various immobilized matrix molecules. The expression of recombinant fragments of the PVL subunits and the addition of synthetic peptides indicated that the processed LukS-PV signal peptide (LukS-PV SP) was sufficient to significantly enhance the ability of S. aureus to attach to extracellular matrix (ECM) components. Furthermore, we showed that adhesion to ECM components was inhibited by heparin and heparan sulfates (HS) suggesting that in vivo, HS could function as a molecular bridge between the matrix and S. aureus expressing the LukS-PV signal peptide. Site directed mutagenesis, biochemical and structural analyses of the LukS-PV signal peptide indicate that this peptide is present at the S. aureus surface, binds to HS in solid phase assay, and mediates the enhanced S. aureus matrix component adhesion. Our data suggests that after its cleavage by signal peptidase, the signal peptide is released from the membrane and associates to the cell wall through its unique C-terminus sequence, while its highly positively charged N-terminus is exposed on the bacterial surface, allowing its interaction with extracellular matrix-associated HS. This mechanism may provide a molecular bridge that enhances the attachment of the S. aureus PVL+ strains to ECM components exposed at damaged epithelial sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Adhesion / physiology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Heparitin Sulfate / metabolism*
  • Leukocidins / chemistry*
  • Leukocidins / genetics
  • Operon
  • Protein Sorting Signals / physiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Leukocidins
  • Protein Sorting Signals
  • leukocidin S-component protein, Staphylococcus
  • Heparitin Sulfate