Background: Recently, a new livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Sequence Type 398 (ST398) isolate has emerged worldwide. Although there have been reports of invasive disease in humans, MRSA ST398 colonization is much more common in livestock and demonstrates especially high prevalence rates in pigs and calves. The aim of this study was to compare the genome sequence of an ST398 MRSA isolate with other S. aureus genomes in order to identify genetic traits that may explain the success of this particular lineage. Therefore, we determined the whole genome sequence of S0385, an MRSA ST398 isolate from a human case of endocarditis.
Results: The entire genome sequence of S0385 demonstrated considerable accessory genome content differences relative to other S. aureus genomes. Several mobile genetic elements that confer antibiotic resistance were identified, including a novel composite of an type V (5C2&5) Staphylococcal Chromosome Cassette mec (SCCmec) with distinct joining (J) regions. The presence of multiple integrative conjugative elements combined with the absence of a type I restriction and modification system on one of the two nuSa islands, could enhance horizontal gene transfer in this strain. The ST398 MRSA isolate carries a unique pathogenicity island which encodes homologues of two excreted virulence factors; staphylococcal complement inhibitor (SCIN) and von Willebrand factor-binding protein (vWbp). However, several virulence factors such as enterotoxins and phage encoded toxins, including Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), were not identified in this isolate.
Conclusions: Until now MRSA ST398 isolates did not cause frequent invasive disease in humans, which may be due to the absence of several common virulence factors. However, the proposed enhanced ability of these isolates to acquire mobile elements may lead to the rapid acquisition of determinants which contribute to virulence in human infections.