Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Lindsey N. Shaw, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Riordan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Burt Anderson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roman Manetsch, Ph.D.


We have previously identified σS, an ECF sigma factor that is important in the virulence and stress response of S. aureus. Transcriptional profiling of sigS revealed that it is differentially regulated in a variety of laboratory and clinical strains of S. aureus, suggesting that there exists a regulatory network that modulates its expression. In order to identify direct regulators of sigS expression, we performed a biotin pull down assay in tandem with mass spectrometry. We identified CymR as a direct regulator and observed that sigS expression is increased in cells lacking cymR. In addition, transposon mutagenesis was performed to identify regulators of sigS expression. We identified insertions in genes that are transcriptional regulators, and elements involved in amino acid biosynthesis and DNA replication, recombination and repair as influencing sigS expression. Finally, methyl nitro-nitrosoguanidine mutagenesis in conjunction with whole genome sequencing was employed and revealed mutations in the lactose repressor, lacR, and the membrane sensor histidine kinase, kdpD, as negatively effecting sigS expression. EMSAs revealed that LacR is an indirect regulator of sigS expression, while the response regulator KdpE is a direct repressor. These results indicate that a complex regulatory network is in place for sigS that modulates its expression.

In a continuation of studies on σS regulation, we next explored interplay with the products of genes conserved within the sigS locus. We determined that this region is conserved amongst all the sequenced staphylococci, and includes four genes: SAUSA300_1721 (a conserved hypothetical protein), as well as sigS, ecfX, and ecfY. In order to investigate the relationship between EcfX and σS we performed protein pull down assays and observed that these two protein interact. Further to this, transcriptional analysis of sigS in an ecfX mutant reveal that expression of sigS is decreased, indicating that it is an activator. Architectural analysis of the sigS locus via RNAseq revealed that the majority of transcription in this region comes from ecfY, a gene that is downstream and divergent to sigS. We demonstrate that inactivation of ecfY leads to a significant increase in sigS expression, and that ecfY null strains are more resistant to DNA damaging agents such as UV, H2O2, MMS, and ethidium bromide, which we have previously demonstrated that a sigS mutant is highly sensitive to. Our studies also revealed that an ecfY null strain is better able to survive intracellularly following phagocytosis by RAW 264.7 cell and demonstrates increased survival in whole-human blood, which is again opposed to that previously observed for sigS deficient strains. Because the ecfY null strain overexpresses sigS, we investigated the regulon of this sigma factor using this mutant in conjunction with RNAseq analysis. We identified that genes putatively under the control of σS are involved in DNA damage and repair, virulence, amino acid starvation and nucleic acid biosynthesis. Collectively, our results indicate that σS is regulated via a unique mechanism: positively through an apparent need for an activator protein (EcfX) and negatively via RNA-RNA interaction (the 3’ UTR of ecfY). We suggest that the evidence presented here greatly adds not only to our understanding of the regulatory circuits extant within S. aureus, but also to alternative sigma factor biology in general.

Finally, we evaluated the efficacy of a novel library of quinazoline-based compounds against a highly drug resistant strain of S. aureus. We performed structure activity and structure property relationship assays in order to identify lead compounds. These methods lead to the identification of N2,N4-disubstituted quinazoline-2,4-diamines that had low minimum inhibitory concentrations, along with favorable physiochemical properties. Evaluation of their biological activity demonstrated limited potential for resistance of to our quinazoline based compounds, low toxicity to human epithelial cells, and strong efficacy in vivo. Taken together, our findings support the use of quinazoline derivatives as potential new antimicrobials against multidrug resistant S. aureus.

Included in

Microbiology Commons