Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Lindsey Shaw, Ph.D

Committee Member

Stanley Stevens, Ph.D

Committee Member

James Riordan, Ph.D

Committee Member

My-Lien Dao, Ph.D


ABC transporter, antibiotic resistance, pathogenesis, protease, regulator



S. aureus has 16 predicted two-component systems (TCS) that respond to a range of environmental stimuli, and allow for adaptation to stresses. Of these 16, three have no known function, and are not homologous to any other TCS found in closely related organisms. NsaRS is one such element, and belongs to the intramembrane-sensing histidine kinase (IM-HK) family, which is conserved within the Firmicutes. The regulators are defined by a small sensing domain within their histidine kinase, suggesting that they do not sense external signals, but stress in or at the membrane. Our characterization of NsaRS in this work reveals that, as with other IM-HK TCS, it responds to cell-envelope damaging antibiotics, including phosphomycin, ampicillin, nisin, gramicidin, CCCP and penicillin G. Additionally; we reveal that NsaRS regulates a downstream transporter, NsaAB, during nisin-induced stress. Phenotypically, nsaS mutants display a 200-fold decreased ability to develop resistance to another cell-wall targeting antibiotic, bacitracin. Microarray analysis reveals the transcription of 245 genes is altered in a nsaS mutant, with the vast majority down-regulated. Included within this list are genes involved in transport, drug-resistance, cell-envelope synthesis, transcriptional regulation, amino acid metabolism and virulence. Using ICP-MS, a decrease in intracellular divalent metal ions was observed in an nsaS mutant, when grown under low abundance conditions. Characterization of cells using electron microscopy reveals that nsaS mutants also have alterations in cell-envelope structure. Finally, a variety of virulence related phenotypes are impaired in nsaS mutants, including biofilm formation, resistance to killing by human macrophages and survival in whole human blood. Thus NsaRS is important in sensing cell wall damage in S. aureus, and functions to reprogram gene expression to modify cell-envelope architecture, facilitating adaptation and survival. Interestingly, in our microarray analysis, we observed a more than 30-fold decrease in transcription of an ABC transporter, SACOL2525/2526, in the nsaS mutant. This transporter bears strong homology to nsaAB, and is currently uncharacterized. Exploration of the role of SACOL2525/2526 revealed that, along with NsaRS, it too responds to cell-envelope damaging antibiotics. Specifically, its expression was induced by phosphomycin, daptomycin, penicillin G, ampicillin, oxacillin, D-cycloserine and CCCP. Mutation of this transporter results in increased sensitivity to the antibacterial agent daptomycin, and decreased sensitivity to free fatty acids. These findings are perhaps explained by altered membrane fluidity in the mutant strain, as the transporter null-strain is more readily killed in the presence of organic solvents, such as toluene. In addition, SACOL2525/2526 mutants have a decreased ability to form spontaneous mutants in response to several other peptidoglycan synthesis targeting antibiotics, suggesting a role for SACOL2525/2526 in antibiotic resistance. Inactivation of this transporter alters the cell envelope, and produces similar effects to those observed with the nsaS mutant, with increased capsule production, that may provide resistance to lysostaphin. Interestingly, the nsaS microarray revealed that this TCS negatively regulates only 34 genes, including 6 out of the 10 major secreted proteases. Despite a number of reports in the literature describing these enzymes as virulence factors, the data is often conflicting. Therefore, the contribution of proteases to CA-MRSA pathogenesis was investigated, by constructing a strain lacking all 10 extracellular protease genes. Analysis of this strain using murine models of infection reveals secreted proteases significantly impact virulence in both localized and systemic infections. Additionally, inactivation of these enzymes strongly influences survival in whole human blood, and increases sensitivity to antimicrobial peptides. Using a proteomics approach, we demonstrate that the contribution of secreted proteases to pathogenicity is related to differential processing of a large number of surface-associated virulence factors and secreted toxins. Collectively these findings provide a unique insight into the role of secreted proteases in CA-MRSA infections.