Expression of virulence factors by Staphylococcus aureus grown in serum

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Nov;77(22):8097-105. doi: 10.1128/AEM.05316-11. Epub 2011 Sep 16.


Staphylococcus aureus produces many virulence factors, including toxins, immune-modulatory factors, and exoenzymes. Previous studies involving the analysis of virulence expression were mainly performed by in vitro experiments using bacterial medium. However, when S. aureus infects a host, the bacterial growth conditions are quite different from those in a medium, which may be related to the different expression of virulence factors in the host. In this study, we investigated the expression of virulence factors in S. aureus grown in calf serum. The expression of many virulence factors, including hemolysins, enterotoxins, proteases, and iron acquisition factors, was significantly increased compared with that in bacterial medium. In addition, the expression of RNA III, a global regulon for virulence expression, was significantly increased. This effect was partially restored by the addition of 300 μM FeCl₃ into serum, suggesting that iron depletion is associated with the increased expression of virulence factors in serum. In chemically defined medium without iron, a similar effect was observed. In a mutant with agr inactivated grown in serum, the expression of RNA III, psm, and sec4 was not increased, while other factors were still induced in the mutant, suggesting that another regulatory factor(s) is involved. In addition, we found that serum albumin is a major factor for the capture of free iron to prevent the supply of iron to bacteria grown in serum. These results indicate that S. aureus expresses virulence factors in adaptation to the host environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Culture Media / chemistry
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Serum / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / growth & development*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity*
  • Transcriptome
  • Virulence Factors / biosynthesis*


  • Culture Media
  • Virulence Factors