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In Staphylococcus aureus, hundreds of small regulatory or small RNAs (sRNAs) have been identified, yet this class of molecule remains poorly understood and severely understudied. sRNA genes are typically absent from genome annotation files, and as a consequence, their existence is often overlooked, particularly in global transcriptomic studies. To facilitate improved detection and analysis of sRNAs in S. aureus, we generated updated GenBank files for three commonly used S. aureus strains (MRSA252, NCTC 8325, and USA300), in which we added annotations for >260 previously identified sRNAs. These files, the first to include genome-wide annotation of sRNAs in S. aureus, were then used as a foundation to identify novel sRNAs in the community-associated methicillin-resistant strain USA300. This analysis led to the discovery of 39 previously unidentified sRNAs. Investigating the genomic loci of the newly identified sRNAs revealed a surprising degree of inconsistency in genome annotation in S. aureus, which may be hindering the analysis and functional exploration of these elements. Finally, using our newly created annotation files as a reference, we perform a global analysis of sRNA gene expression in S. aureus and demonstrate that the newly identified tsr25 is the most highly upregulated sRNA in human serum. This study provides an invaluable resource to the S. aureus research community in the form of our newly generated annotation files, while at the same time presenting the first examination of differential sRNA expression in pathophysiologically relevant conditions.

IMPORTANCE Despite a large number of studies identifying regulatory or small RNA (sRNA) genes in Staphylococcus aureus, their annotation is notably lacking in available genome files. In addition to this, there has been a considerable lack of cross-referencing in the wealth of studies identifying these elements, often leading to the same sRNA being identified multiple times and bearing multiple names. In this work, we have consolidated and curated known sRNA genes from the literature and mapped them to their position on the S. aureus genome, creating new genome annotation files. These files can now be used by the scientific community at large in experiments to search for previously undiscovered sRNA genes and to monitor sRNA gene expression by transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq). We demonstrate this application, identifying 39 new sRNAs and studying their expression during S. aureus growth in human serum.

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Microbe-American Society for Microbiology, v. 7, issue 1, art. e01990-15

Copyright © 2016 Carroll et al.

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