Small colony variants (SCVs) of Staphylococcus aureus--a bacterial survival strategy

Infect Genet Evol. 2014 Jan:21:515-22. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2013.05.016. Epub 2013 May 27.


Small colony variants (SCVs) of Staphylococcus aureus have been implicated in chronic recurrent infections and have therefore gained renewed interest during the last decade. Moreover, SCVs have been shown to be part of the regular growth cycle, are highly dynamic or stable and can be selected during various harsh conditions. As such, the emergence of SCVs has been described not only in human, but also in veterinary medicine as well as in food microbiology. SCVs are characterized by impaired growth, down-regulation of genes for metabolism and virulence, while sigB and genes important for persistence and biofilm formation are up-regulated. Furthermore, SCVs are resistant to various antibiotics such as aminoglycosides, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, fluorquinolones, fusidic acid or even to antiseptics such as triclosan. An underlying mechanism has been determined for hemin-, menadione- and thymidine-dependent SCVs as well as for SCVs which are impaired in their stress response. SCVs are optimized for persistence in the host. They are able to reverse and thereby constitute a highly dynamic subpopulation of S. aureus. Such phenotype switching constitutes an integral part of the infection process enabling the bacteria to hide inside the host cell without eliciting a strong host response.

Keywords: Intracellular; Persistence; Small colony variants; Staphylococcus aureus; Stress response; Survival strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology
  • Virulence


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents