Staphylococcus aureus is a ubiquitous bacterial pathogen that is the causative agent of numerous acute and chronic infections. S. aureus colonizes the anterior nares of a significant portion of the healthy adult population, but the mechanisms of colonization remain incompletely defined. Sialic acid (N-acetylneuraminic acid [Neu5Ac]) is a bioavailable carbon and nitrogen source that is abundant on mucosal surfaces and in secretions in the commensal environment. Our findings demonstrate that Neu5Ac can serve as an S. aureus carbon source, and we have identified a previously uncharacterized chromosomal locus (nan) that is required for Neu5Ac utilization. Molecular characterization of the nan locus indicates that it contains five genes, organized into four transcripts, and the genes were renamed nanE, nanR, nanK, nanA, and nanT. Initial studies with gene deletions indicate that nanT, predicted to encode the Neu5Ac transporter, and nanA and nanE, predicted to encode catabolic enzymes, are essential for growth on Neu5Ac. Furthermore, a nanE deletion mutant exhibits a growth inhibition phenotype in the presence of Neu5Ac. Transcriptional fusions and Northern blot analyses indicate that NanR represses the expression of both the nanAT and nanE transcripts, which can be relieved with Neu5Ac. Electrophoretic mobility studies demonstrate that NanR binds to the nanAT and nanE promoter regions, and the Neu5Ac catabolic intermediate N-acetylmannosamine-6-phosphate (ManNAc-6P) relieves NanR promoter binding. Taken together, these data indicate that the nan gene cluster is essential for Neu5Ac utilization and may perform an important function for S. aureus survival in the host.