Distinct roles of phenol-soluble modulins in spreading of Staphylococcus aureus on wet surfaces

Eleni Tsompanidou, Emma L Denham, Dörte Becher, Anne de Jong, Girbe Buist, Marleen van Oosten, Willem L Manson, Jaap Willem Back, Jan Maarten van Dijl, Annette Dreisbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (SciVal)


The human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is renowned for the rapid colonization of contaminated wounds, medical implants, and food products. Nevertheless, little is known about the mechanisms that allow S. aureus to colonize the respective wet surfaces. The present studies were therefore aimed at identifying factors used by S. aureus cells to spread over wet surfaces, starting either from planktonic or biofilm-associated states. Through proteomics analyses we pinpoint phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) as prime facilitators of the spreading process. To dissect the roles of the eight PSMs produced by S. aureus, these peptides were chemically synthesized and tested in spreading assays with different psm mutant strains. The results show that PSMα3 and PSMγ are the strongest facilitators of spreading both for planktonic cells and cells in catheter-associated biofilms. Compared to the six other PSMs of S. aureus, PSMα3 and PSMγ combine strong surfactant activities with a relatively low overall hydropathicity. Importantly, we show that PSM-mediated motility of S. aureus facilitates the rapid colonization of wet surfaces next to catheters and the colonization of fresh meat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)886-895
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Bacterial Toxins/chemical synthesis
  • Biofilms/growth & development
  • Catheters/microbiology
  • Environmental Microbiology
  • Humans
  • Meat/microbiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus/growth & development
  • Surface-Active Agents/metabolism


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