Impact of the Novel Prophage ϕSA169 on Persistent Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Endovascular Infection

mSystems. 2020 Jun 30;5(3):e00178-20. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00178-20.


Persistent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) endovascular infections are life-threatening syndromes with few therapeutic options. The potential impact of bacteriophages on the persistent outcome has not been well studied. In this study, we investigated the role of a novel prophage (ϕSA169) in MRSA persistence by using a lysogen-free clinically resolving bacteremia (RB) isolate and comparing it to a derivative which was obtained by infecting the RB strain with ϕSA169, which has been lysogenized in a clinical persistent MRSA bacteremia (PB) isolate. Similar to the PB isolate, the ϕSA169-lysogenized RB strain exhibited well-defined in vitro and in vivo phenotypic and genotypic signatures related to the persistent outcome, including earlier activation of global regulators (i.e., sigB, sarA, agr RNAIII, and sae); higher expression of a critical purine biosynthesis gene, purF; and higher growth rates accompanied by lower ATP levels and vancomycin (VAN) susceptibility and stronger δ-hemolysin and biofilm formation versus its isogenic parental RB isolate. Notably, the contribution of ϕSA169 in persistent outcome with VAN treatment was confirmed in an experimental infective endocarditis model. Taken together, these results indicate the critical role of the prophage ϕSA169 in persistent MRSA endovascular infections. Further studies are needed to identify the mechanisms of ϕSA169 in mediating the persistence, as well as establishing the scope of impact, of this prophage in other PB strains.IMPORTANCE Bacteriophages are viruses that invade the bacterial host, disrupt bacterial metabolism, and cause the bacterium to lyse. Because of its remarkable antibacterial activity and unique advantages over antibiotics, for instance, bacteriophage is specific for one species of bacteria and resistance to phage is less common than resistance to antibiotics. Indeed, bacteriophage therapy for treating infections due to multidrug-resistant pathogens in humans has become a research hot spot. However, it is also worth considering that bacteriophages are transferable and could cotransfer host chromosomal genes, e.g., virulence and antimicrobial resistance genes, while lysogenizing and integrating into the bacterial chromosome (prophage), thus playing a role in bacterial evolution and virulence. In the current study, we identified a novel prophage, ϕSA169, from a clinical persistent MRSA bacteremia isolate, and we determined that ϕSA169 mediated well-defined in vitro and in vivo phenotypic and genotypic signatures related to the persistent outcome, which may represent a unique and important persistent mechanism(s).

Keywords: MRSA; bacteriophage; persistent endovascular infection.