Molecular Characteristics and Pathogenicity of Staphylococcus aureus Exotoxins

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Dec 28;25(1):395. doi: 10.3390/ijms25010395.


Staphylococcus aureus stands as one of the most pervasive pathogens given its morbidity and mortality worldwide due to its roles as an infectious agent that causes a wide variety of diseases ranging from moderately severe skin infections to fatal pneumonia and sepsis. S. aureus produces a variety of exotoxins that serve as important virulence factors in S. aureus-related infectious diseases and food poisoning in both humans and animals. For example, staphylococcal enterotoxins (SEs) produced by S. aureus induce staphylococcal foodborne poisoning; toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1), as a typical superantigen, induces toxic shock syndrome; hemolysins induce cell damage in erythrocytes and leukocytes; and exfoliative toxin induces staphylococcal skin scalded syndrome. Recently, Panton-Valentine leucocidin, a cytotoxin produced by community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA), has been reported, and new types of SEs and staphylococcal enterotoxin-like toxins (SEls) were discovered and reported successively. This review addresses the progress of and novel insights into the molecular structure, biological activities, and pathogenicity of both the classic and the newly identified exotoxins produced by S. aureus.

Keywords: Panton–Valentine leucocidin; exfoliative toxin; hemolysin; membrane-damaging toxin; staphylococcal enterotoxin; superantigen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exotoxins
  • Humans
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus*
  • Staphylococcal Infections*
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Virulence


  • Exotoxins