Non-Native Peptides Capable of Pan-Activating the agr Quorum Sensing System across Multiple Specificity Groups of Staphylococcus epidermidis

ACS Chem Biol. 2021 Jun 18;16(6):1070-1078. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.1c00240. Epub 2021 May 14.


Staphylococcus epidermidis is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. Traditional antibiotics have significantly reduced efficacy against this pathogen due to its ability to form biofilms on abiotic surfaces and drug resistance. The accessory gene regulator (agr) quorum sensing system is directly involved in S. epidermidis pathogenesis. Activation of agr is achieved via binding of the autoinducing peptide (AIP) signal to the extracellular sensor domain of its cognate receptor, AgrC. Divergent evolution has given rise to four agr specificity groups in S. epidermidis defined by the unique AIP sequence used by each group (AIPs-I-IV) with observed cross-group activities. As agr agonism has been shown to reduce biofilm growth in S. epidermidis, the development of pan-group activators of the agr system is of interest as a potential antivirulence strategy. To date, no synthetic compounds have been identified that are capable of appreciably activating the agr system of more than one specificity group of S. epidermidis or, to our knowledge, of any of the other Staphylococci. Here, we report the characterization of the structure-activity relationships for agr agonism by S. epidermidis AIP-II and AIP-III and the application of these new SAR data and those previously reported for AIP-I for the design and synthesis of the first multigroup agr agonists. These non-native peptides were capable of inducing the expression of critical biofilm dispersal agents (i.e., phenol-soluble modulins) in cell culture and represent new tools to study the role of quorum sensing in S. epidermidis infections.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Quorum Sensing / drug effects*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / drug effects*
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Peptides