Assessing the contribution of heme-iron acquisition to Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia using computed tomography

PLoS One. 2009 Aug 18;4(8):e6668. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006668.


Background: S. aureus acquires heme-iron using the iron regulated surface determinant (Isd) system and the heme transport system (Hts) with both systems showing critical importance in systemic models of infection. The contribution of heme-iron acquisition to staphylococcal pneumonia has not yet been elucidated. In addition, the use of computed tomography (CT) for the evaluation of staphylococcal pneumonia and its correlation to pathologic examination of infected lung tissue has not been performed to date. We have applied CT-based imaging to a murine model of staphylococcal pneumonia to determine the virulence contribution of heme-iron acquisition through the Hts and Isd systems.

Methodology/principal findings: Mice were intranasally inoculated with approximately 1.0 x 10(8) colony forming units (CFU) of S. aureus. Lungs from mice infected with wild type S. aureus or strains deficient in isdB and isdH (DeltaisdBH) or htsA and isdE (DeltahtsADeltaisdE) were harvested at 24 hours. Histology, radiographic appearance by computed tomography (CT), percent mortality and bacterial burden were evaluated. Infection with S. aureus DeltaisdBH and DeltahtsADeltaisdE did not result in a statistically significant difference in mortality or bacterial burden as compared to controls. CT imaging of infected mice also did not reveal an appreciable difference between the various strains when compared to wild type, but did correlate with pathologic findings of pneumonia. However, a systemic model of infection using the DeltahtsADeltaisdE strain revealed a statistically significant decrease in bacterial burden in the lung, heart and kidneys.

Conclusions/significance: The development of staphylococcal pneumonia in this murine model is not dependent on hemoglobin binding or heme-iron uptake into S. aureus. However, this model does reveal that heme-iron acquisition contributes to the pathogenesis of systemic staphylococcal infections. In addition, CT imaging of murine lungs is an attractive adjunct to histologic analysis for the confirmation and staging of pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Heme