Staphopains modulate Staphylococcus aureus biofilm integrity

Infect Immun. 2013 Sep;81(9):3227-38. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00377-13. Epub 2013 Jun 24.


Staphylococcus aureus is a known cause of chronic biofilm infections that can reside on medical implants or host tissue. Recent studies have demonstrated an important role for proteinaceous material in the biofilm structure. The S. aureus genome encodes many secreted proteases, and there is growing evidence that these enzymes have self-cleavage properties that alter biofilm integrity. However, the specific contribution of each protease and mechanism of biofilm modulation is not clear. To address this issue, we utilized a sigma factor B (ΔsigB) mutant where protease activity results in a biofilm-negative phenotype, thereby creating a condition where the protease(s) responsible for the phenotype could be identified. Using a plasma-coated microtiter assay, biofilm formation was restored to the ΔsigB mutant through the addition of the cysteine protease inhibitor E-64 or by using Staphostatin inhibitors that specifically target the extracellular cysteine proteases SspB and ScpA (called Staphopains). Through construction of gene deletion mutants, we determined that an sspB scpA double mutant restored ΔsigB biofilm formation, and this recovery could be replicated in plasma-coated flow cell biofilms. Staphopain levels were also found to be decreased under biofilm-forming conditions, possibly allowing biofilm establishment. The treatment of S. aureus biofilms with purified SspB or ScpA enzyme inhibited their formation, and ScpA was also able to disperse an established biofilm. The antibiofilm properties of ScpA were conserved across S. aureus strain lineages. These findings suggest an underappreciated role of the SspB and ScpA cysteine proteases in modulating S. aureus biofilm architecture.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / genetics*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Cysteine Proteases / genetics
  • Cysteine Proteases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Staphylococcal Infections / genetics
  • Staphylococcal Infections / metabolism
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Cysteine Proteases
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases