Phenol-soluble modulins--critical determinants of staphylococcal virulence

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2014 Jul;38(4):698-719. doi: 10.1111/1574-6976.12057. Epub 2014 Jan 16.


Phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) are a recently discovered family of amphipathic, alpha-helical peptides that have multiple roles in staphylococcal pathogenesis and contribute to a large extent to the pathogenic success of virulent staphylococci, such as Staphylococcus aureus. PSMs may cause lysis of many human cell types including leukocytes and erythrocytes, stimulate inflammatory responses, and contribute to biofilm development. PSMs appear to have an original role in the commensal lifestyle of staphylococci, where they facilitate growth and spreading on epithelial surfaces. Aggressive, cytolytic PSMs seem to have evolved from that original role and are mainly expressed in highly virulent S. aureus. Here, we will review the biochemistry, genetics, and role of PSMs in the commensal and pathogenic lifestyles of staphylococci, discuss how diversification of PSMs defines the aggressiveness of staphylococcal species, and evaluate potential avenues to target PSMs for drug development against staphylococcal infections.

Keywords: Staphylococcus aureus; Staphylococcus epidermidis; biofilm; phenol-soluble modulin; toxin; virulence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Immunologic Factors / genetics
  • Immunologic Factors / isolation & purification
  • Immunologic Factors / metabolism*
  • Phenol / chemistry
  • Protein Transport
  • Staphylococcus aureus / chemistry
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence Factors / chemistry
  • Virulence Factors / isolation & purification
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Virulence Factors
  • Phenol