Staphylococcus aureus is a commensal bacterium that can asymptomatically colonize its host but also causes invasive infections. Quorum sensing regulates S. aureus virulence and the transition from a commensal to a pathogenic organism. However, little is known about how host innate immunity affects interbacterial communication. We show that nitric oxide suppresses staphylococcal virulence by targeting the Agr quorum sensing system. Nitric oxide-mediated inhibition occurs through direct modification of cysteine residues C55, C123, and C199 of the AgrA transcription factor. Cysteine modification decreases AgrA promoter occupancy as well as transcription of the agr operon and quorum sensing-activated toxin genes. In a staphylococcal pneumonia model, mice lacking inducible nitric oxide synthase develop more severe disease with heightened mortality and proinflammatory cytokine responses. In addition, staphylococcal α-toxin production increases in the absence of nitric oxide or nitric oxide-sensitive AgrA cysteine residues. Our findings demonstrate an anti-virulence mechanism for nitric oxide in innate immunity.
Keywords: S. aureus; bacterial pathogenesis; host defense; innate immunity; nitric oxide; quorum sensing; virulence.
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