Transcriptional Profiling of Phagocytic Leukocytes and Microglia Reveals a Critical Role for Reactive Oxygen Species in Biofilm Containment during Staphylococcus aureus Craniotomy Infection

J Immunol. 2022 Nov 15;209(10):1973-1986. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2200503. Epub 2022 Oct 3.


Craniotomies are performed to treat a variety of intracranial pathology. Surgical site infection remains a complication of craniotomy despite the use of prophylactic antibiotics and universal sterile precautions. Infections occur in 1-3% of procedures, with approximately half caused by Staphylococcus aureus that forms a biofilm on the bone flap and is recalcitrant to systemic antibiotic therapy. We used an S. aureus-dsRed construct to compare the phagocytic capacity of leukocytes and microglia in vitro and in vivo using a mouse model of craniotomy infection. In addition, single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) was applied to determine whether a transcriptional signature could be identified for phagocytic versus nonphagocytic cells in vivo. S. aureus was phagocytosed to equivalent extents in microglia, macrophages, neutrophils, and granulocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells in vitro; however, microglial uptake of S. aureus was limited in vivo, whereas the other leukocyte populations exhibited phagocytic activity. scRNA-seq comparing the transcriptional signatures of phagocytic (S. aureus-dsRed+) versus nonphagocytic (S. aureus-dsRed-) leukocytes identified classical pathways enriched in phagocytic cells (i.e., reactive oxygen species [ROS]/reactive nitrogen species, lysosome, iron uptake, and transport), whereas nonphagocytic populations had increased ribosomal, IFN, and hypoxia signatures. scRNA-seq also revealed a robust ROS profile, which led to the exploration of craniotomy infection in NADPH oxidase 2 knockout mice. S. aureus burden, leukocyte recruitment, and intracellular bacterial load were significantly increased in NADPH oxidase 2 KO compared with wild-type animals. Collectively, these results highlight the importance of ROS generation in phagocytes for S. aureus biofilm containment, but not clearance, during craniotomy infection.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biofilms
  • Craniotomy
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • NADPH Oxidase 2
  • Phagocytes / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Staphylococcal Infections* / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus* / genetics


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NADPH Oxidase 2