The regulation of membrane protein activity for cellular functions is critically dependent on the composition of phospholipid membranes. Cardiolipin, a unique phospholipid found in bacterial membranes and mitochondrial membranes of eukaryotes, plays a crucial role in stabilizing membrane proteins and maintaining their function. In the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, the SaeRS two-component system (TCS) controls the expression of key virulence factors essential for the bacterium's virulence. The SaeS sensor kinase activates the SaeR response regulator via phosphoryl transfer to bind its gene target promoters. In this study, we report that cardiolipin is critical for sustaining the full activity of SaeRS and other TCSs in S. aureus. The sensor kinase protein SaeS binds directly to cardiolipin and phosphatidylglycerol, enabling SaeS activity. Elimination of cardiolipin from the membrane reduces SaeS kinase activity, indicating that bacterial cardiolipin is necessary for modulating the kinase activities of SaeS and other sensor kinases during infection. Moreover, the deletion of cardiolipin synthase genes cls1 and cls2 leads to reduced cytotoxicity to human neutrophils and lower virulence in a mouse model of infection. These findings suggest a model where cardiolipin modulates the kinase activity of SaeS and other sensor kinases after infection to adapt to the hostile environment of the host and expand our knowledge of how phospholipids contribute to membrane protein function.
Keywords: SaeRS; SaeS sensor histidine kinase; Staphylococcus aureus; cardiolipin; two-component regulatory systems; virulence.