The type VII secretion system of Staphylococcus aureus secretes a nuclease toxin that targets competitor bacteria

Nat Microbiol. 2016 Oct 10;2:16183. doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.183.


The type VII protein secretion system (T7SS) plays a critical role in the virulence of human pathogens including Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus. Here, we report that the S. aureus T7SS secretes a large nuclease toxin, EsaD. The toxic activity of EsaD is neutralized during its biosynthesis through complex formation with an antitoxin, EsaG, which binds to its C-terminal nuclease domain. The secretion of EsaD is dependent on a further accessory protein, EsaE, that does not interact with the nuclease domain, but instead binds to the EsaD N-terminal region. EsaE has a dual cytoplasmic/membrane localization, and membrane-bound EsaE interacts with the T7SS secretion ATPase, EssC, implicating EsaE in targeting the EsaDG complex to the secretion apparatus. EsaD and EsaE are co-secreted, whereas EsaG is found only in the cytoplasm and may be stripped off during the secretion process. Strain variants of S. aureus that lack esaD encode at least two copies of EsaG-like proteins, most probably to protect themselves from the toxic activity of EsaD secreted by esaD+ strains. In support of this, a strain overproducing EsaD elicits significant growth inhibition against a sensitive strain. We conclude that the T7SS may play unexpected and key roles in bacterial competitiveness.

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / enzymology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism*
  • Type VII Secretion Systems / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Type VII Secretion Systems
  • Deoxyribonucleases