Staphylococcus aureus pathogenesis can be attributed partially to its ability to adapt to otherwise deleterious host-associated stresses. Here, Affymetrix GeneChips® were used to examine the S. aureus responses to inorganic acid and alkaline shock and to assess whether stress-dependent changes in mRNA turnover are likely to facilitate the organism's ability to tolerate a pH challenge. The results indicate that S. aureus adapts to pH shock by eliciting responses expected of cells coping with pH alteration, including neutralizing cellular pH, DNA repair, amino acid biosynthesis, and virulence factor expression. Further, the S. aureus response to alkaline conditions is strikingly similar to that of stringent response-induced cells. Indeed, we show that alkaline shock stimulates the accumulation of the stringent response activator (p)ppGpp. The results also revealed that pH shock significantly alters the mRNA properties of the cell. A comparison of the mRNA degradation properties of transcripts whose titers either increased or decreased in response to a sudden pH change revealed that alterations in mRNA degradation may, in part, account for the changes in the mRNA levels of factors predicted to mediate pH tolerance. A set of small stable RNA molecules were induced in response to acid- or alkaline-shock conditions and may mediate adaptation to pH stress.
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