saeRS and sarA act synergistically to repress protease production and promote biofilm formation in Staphylococcus aureus

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38453. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038453. Epub 2012 Jun 7.


Mutation of the staphylococcal accessory regulator (sarA) limits biofilm formation in diverse strains of Staphylococcus aureus, but there are exceptions. One of these is the commonly studied strain Newman. This strain has two defects of potential relevance, the first being mutations that preclude anchoring of the fibronectin-binding proteins FnbA and FnbB to the cell wall, and the second being a point mutation in saeS that results in constitutive activation of the saePQRS regulatory system. We repaired these defects to determine whether either plays a role in biofilm formation and, if so, whether this could account for the reduced impact of sarA in Newman. Restoration of surface-anchored FnbA enhanced biofilm formation, but mutation of sarA in this fnbA-positive strain increased rather than decreased biofilm formation. Mutation of sarA in an saeS-repaired derivative of Newman (P18L) or a Newman saeRS mutant (ΔsaeRS) resulted in a biofilm-deficient phenotype like that observed in clinical isolates, even in the absence of surface-anchored FnbA. These phenotypes were correlated with increased production of extracellular proteases and decreased accumulation of FnbA and/or Spa in the P18L and ΔsaeRS sarA mutants by comparison to the Newman sarA mutant. The reduced accumulation of Spa was reversed by mutation of the gene encoding aureolysin, while the reduced accumulation of FnbA was reversed by mutation of the sspABC operon. These results demonstrate that saeRS and sarA act synergistically to repress the production of extracellular proteases that would otherwise limit accumulation of critical proteins that contribute to biofilm formation, with constitutive activation of saeRS limiting protease production, even in a sarA mutant, to a degree that can be correlated with increased enhanced capacity to form a biofilm. Although it remains unclear whether these effects are mediated directly or indirectly, studies done with an sspA::lux reporter suggest they are mediated at a transcriptional level.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / genetics
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Extracellular Space / enzymology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Metalloendopeptidases / genetics
  • Metalloendopeptidases / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Peptide Hydrolases / genetics
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology*
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • SaeR protein, Staphylococcus aureus
  • SarA protein, bacterial
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • fibronectin-binding proteins, bacterial
  • Protein Kinases
  • SaeS protein, Staphylococcus aureus
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Metalloendopeptidases
  • aureolysin