Regulation of Staphylococcus aureus Virulence

Microbiol Spectr. 2019 Apr 5;7(2):10.1128/microbiolspec.GPP3-0031-2018. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.GPP3-0031-2018.


Staphylococcus aureus is a Gram-positive opportunistic pathogen that has evolved a complex regulatory network to control virulence. One of the main functions of this interconnected network is to sense various environmental cues and respond by altering the production of virulence factors necessary for survival in the host, including cell surface adhesins and extracellular enzymes and toxins. Of these S. aureus regulatory systems, one of the best studied is the accessory gene regulator (agr), which is a quorum-sensing system that senses the local concentration of a cyclic peptide signaling molecule. This system allows S. aureus to sense its own population density and translate this information into a specific gene expression pattern. Besides agr, this pathogen uses other two-component systems to sense specific cues and coordinates responses with cytoplasmic regulators of the SarA protein family and alternative sigma factors. These divergent regulatory systems integrate the various environmental and host-derived signals into a network that ensures optimal pathogen response to the changing conditions. This article gives an overview of the most important and best-studied S. aureus regulatory systems and summarizes the functions of these regulators during host interactions. The regulatory systems discussed include the agr quorum-sensing system; the SaeRS, SrrAB, and ArlRS two-component systems, the cytoplasmic SarA-family regulators (SarA, Rot, and MgrA); and the alternative sigma factors (SigB and SigH).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Bacterial / genetics
  • Adhesins, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism
  • Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Adhesins, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Virulence Factors