A Small Membrane Stabilizing Protein Critical to the Pathogenicity of Staphylococcus aureus

Seanna Duggan, Maisem Laabei, Alaa Abdulaziz Alnahari, Eoin C. O'Brien, Keenan A. Lacey, Leann Bacon, Kate Heesom, Chih-Lung Fu, Michael Otto, Eric Skaar, Rachel M. McLoughlin, Ruth Massey

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5 Citations (SciVal)


Staphylococcus aureus is a major human pathogen, and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains is making all types of S. aureus infections more challenging to treat. With a pressing need to develop alternative control strategies to use alongside or in place of conventional antibiotics, one approach is the targeting of established virulence factors. However, attempts at this have had little success to date, suggesting that we need to better understand how this pathogen causes disease if effective targets are to be identified. To address this, using a functional genomics approach, we have identified a small membrane-bound protein that we have called MspA. Inactivation of this protein results in the loss of the ability of S. aureus to secrete cytolytic toxins, protect itself from several aspects of the human innate immune system, and control its iron homeostasis. These changes appear to be mediated through a change in the stability of the bacterial membrane as a consequence of iron toxicity. These pleiotropic effects on the ability of the pathogen to interact with its host result in significant impairment in the ability of S. aureus to cause infection in both a subcutaneous and sepsis model of infection. Given the scale of the effect the inactivation of MspA causes, it represents a unique and promising target for the development of a novel therapeutic approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00162-20
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number9
Early online date19 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by a BBSRC Grant awarded to R.C.M., an Intramural Research Program (NIAID, NIH) awarded to M.O., a Royal Society Grant awarded to M.L., and a Ph.D. studentship funded by the Saudi Arabian Government and awarded to A.A.A. Both R.C.M. and R.M.M. are Wellcome Trust-funded Investigators (internal grant ID 212258).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Duggan et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.


  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • cytotoxins
  • immune evasion
  • iron homeostasis
  • virulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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