Mutation of staphylococcal accessory regulator (sarA) results in increased production of extracellular proteases in Staphylococcus aureus, which has been correlated with decreased biofilm formation and decreased accumulation of extracellular toxins. We used murine models of implant-associated biofilm infection and S. aureus bacteraemia (SAB) to compare virulence of USA300 strain LAC, its isogenic sarA mutant, and derivatives of each of these strains with mutations in all 10 of the genes encoding recognized extracellular proteases. The sarA mutant was attenuated in both models, and this was reversed by eliminating production of extracellular proteases. To examine the mechanistic basis, we identified proteins impacted by sarA in a protease-dependent manner. We identified 253 proteins where accumulation was reduced in the sarA mutant compared with the parent strain, and was restored in the sarA/protease mutant. Additionally, in SAB, the LAC protease mutant exhibited a hypervirulent phenotype by comparison with the isogenic parent strain, demonstrating that sarA also positively regulates production of virulence factors, some of which are subject to protease-mediated degradation. We propose a model in which attenuation of sarA mutants is defined by their inability to produce critical factors and simultaneously repress production of extracellular proteases that would otherwise limit accumulation of virulence factors.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.