The SaeRS two-component system is a direct and dominant transcriptional activator of toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 in Staphylococcus aureus
Journal of Bacteriology
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Toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 (TSST-1) is a Staphylococcus aureus superantigen that has been implicated in both menstrual and nonmenstrual toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Despite the important role of TSST-1 in severe human disease, a comprehensive understanding of staphylococcal regulatory factors that control TSST-1 expression remains incomplete. The S. aureus exotoxin expression (Sae) operon contains a well-characterized two-component system that regulates a number of important exotoxins in S. aureus, although regulation of TSST-1 by the Sae system has not been investigated. We generated a defined deletion mutant of the Sae histidine kinase sensor (saeS) in the prototypic menstrual TSS strain S. aureus MN8. Mutation of saeS resulted in a complete loss of TSST-1 expression. Using both luciferase reporter experiments and quantitative real-time PCR, we demonstrate that the Sae system is an important transcriptional activator of TSST-1 expression. Recombinant SaeR was able to bind directly to the tst promoter to a region containing two SaeR consensus binding sites. Although the stand-alone SarA transcriptional regulator has been shown to be both a positive and a negative regulator of TSST-1, deletion of sarA in S. aureus MN8 resulted in a dramatic overexpression of TSST-1. As expected, mutation of agr also reduced TSST-1 expression, but this phenotype appeared to be independent of Sae. A double mutation of saeS and sarA resulted in the loss of TSST-1 expression. This work indicates that the Sae system is a dominant and direct transcriptional activator that is required for expression of TSST-1.