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Virulence Reversion in Staphylococcus aureus
1 , 2 , 3 , 2 , 4 , 5, 6 , * 5
1  Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba
2  Kotobiken Medical Laboratories, Inc., Kamiyokoba, Tsukuba, Japan
3  Human Biology Program, School of Integrative and Global Majors, University of Tsukuba
4  Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan
5  Division of Biomedical Science, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan
6  Center for Biotechnology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan


Staphylococcus aureus is a Gram-positive opportunistic pathogen that imposes a heavy burden on society. What sets this pathogen apart is the sheer spectrum of infections it can cause, which range from benign skin and soft tissue infections to lethal endocarditis and bacteraemia. The ability of S. aureus to cause this gamut of infections is conferred by its arsenal of virulence factors that are under the control of the Accessory Gene Regulator (Agr) system. However, a large proportion of clinical isolates have inactivating mutations in this important regulatory system. We previously showed that, contrary to the common dogma, not all these mutations are evolutionary ‘dead-ends’ and a fraction are phase variants which can revert to an Agr active state. Here we report that some Agr deficient isolates can revert a haemolytic phenotype without repairing their Agr system. We collected as series of 30 Agr negative primary patient samples in order to assess the significance of our previous findings on the existence of Agr phase variants. We used primary samples to avoid strains that had undergone multiple clonal expansions before being tested for reversibility. We assessed Agr reversibility by serially passaging strains and screening for phenotypic reversion of haemolysis. We show that two strains reverted haemolysis and one reverted alpha haemolysin activity without any genetic changes in agr (and hla for the alpha revertant). These results add further complexity to the phenomenon of Agr shutdown observed in the clinical setting and corroborate recent findings of compensatory mutations arising in Agr deficient clinical strains.

Keywords: Staphylococcus aureus; Phase Variation; Virulence