A Metabolite of Pseudomonas Triggers Prophage-Selective Lysogenic to Lytic Conversion in Staphylococcus aureus

J Am Chem Soc. 2021 Jun 9;143(22):8344-8351. doi: 10.1021/jacs.1c01275. Epub 2021 May 12.


Bacteriophages have major impact on their microbial hosts and shape entire microbial communities. The majority of these phages are latent and reside as prophages integrated in the genomes of their microbial hosts. A variety of intricate regulatory systems determine the switch from a lysogenic to lytic life style, but so far strategies are lacking to selectively control prophage induction by small molecules. Here we show that Pseudomonas aeruginosa deploys a trigger factor to hijack the lysogenic to lytic switch of a polylysogenic Staphylococcus aureus strain causing the selective production of only one of its prophages. Fractionating extracts of P. aeruginosa identified the phenazine pyocyanin as a highly potent prophage inducer of S. aureus that, in contrast to mitomycin C, displayed prophage selectivity. Mutagenesis and biochemical investigations confirm the existence of a noncanonical mechanism beyond SOS-response that is controlled by the intracellular oxidation level and is prophage-selective. Our results demonstrate that human pathogens can produce metabolites triggering lysogenic to lytic conversion in a prophage-selective manner. We anticipate our discovery to be the starting point of unveiling metabolite-mediated microbe-prophage interactions and laying the foundations for a selective small molecule controlled manipulation of prophage activity. These could be for example applied to control microbial communities by their built-in destruction mechanism in a novel form of phage therapy or for the construction of small molecule-inducible switches in synthetic biology.