Repression of branched-chain amino acid synthesis in Staphylococcus aureus is mediated by isoleucine via CodY, and by a leucine-rich attenuator peptide

PLoS Genet. 2018 Jan 22;14(1):e1007159. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007159. eCollection 2018 Jan.


Staphylococcus aureus requires branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; isoleucine, leucine, valine) for protein synthesis, branched-chain fatty acid synthesis, and environmental adaptation by responding to their availability via the global transcriptional regulator CodY. The importance of BCAAs for S. aureus physiology necessitates that it either synthesize them or scavenge them from the environment. Indeed S. aureus uses specialized transporters to scavenge BCAAs, however, its ability to synthesize them has remained conflicted by reports that it is auxotrophic for leucine and valine despite carrying an intact BCAA biosynthetic operon. In revisiting these findings, we have observed that S. aureus can engage in leucine and valine synthesis, but the level of BCAA synthesis is dependent on the BCAA it is deprived of, leading us to hypothesize that each BCAA differentially regulates the biosynthetic operon. Here we show that two mechanisms of transcriptional repression regulate the level of endogenous BCAA biosynthesis in response to specific BCAA availability. We identify a trans-acting mechanism involving isoleucine-dependent repression by the global transcriptional regulator CodY and a cis-acting leucine-responsive attenuator, uncovering how S. aureus regulates endogenous biosynthesis in response to exogenous BCAA availability. Moreover, given that isoleucine can dominate CodY-dependent regulation of BCAA biosynthesis, and that CodY is a global regulator of metabolism and virulence in S. aureus, we extend the importance of isoleucine availability for CodY-dependent regulation of other metabolic and virulence genes. These data resolve the previous conflicting observations regarding BCAA biosynthesis, and reveal the environmental signals that not only induce BCAA biosynthesis, but that could also have broader consequences on S. aureus environmental adaptation and virulence via CodY.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Environment
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Isoleucine / physiology*
  • Leucine / chemistry
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Organisms, Genetically Modified
  • Repressor Proteins / chemistry
  • Repressor Proteins / physiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CodY protein, Staphylococcus aureus
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine