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Although the GraS sensor kinase of Staphylococcus aureus is known for the sensing of and resistance to cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs), we recently established that it also signals in response to acidic pH, which is encountered on human skin concurrently with CAMPs, antimicrobial unsaturated free fatty acids (uFFA), and calcium. We therefore evaluated how these environmental signals would affect GraS function and resistance to antimicrobial uFFA. Growth at pH 5.5 promoted increased resistance of S. aureus USA300 to linoleic and arachidonic acids but not palmitoleic or sapienic acid. However, enhanced resistance to these C16:1 uFFA was achieved by supplementing acidic medium with 0.5 mM calcium or subinhibitory CAMPs. Enhanced resistance to uFFA at acidic pH was dependent on GraS and GraS-dependent expression of the lysyl-phosphatidylglycerol synthase enzyme MprF, through a mechanism that did not require the lysyl-transferase function of MprF. In addition to enhanced resistance to antimicrobial uFFA, acidic pH also promoted increased production of secreted proteases in a GraS-dependent manner. During growth at pH 5.5, downstream phenotypes of signaling through GraS, including resistance to uFFA, MprF-dependent addition of positive charge to the cell surface, and increased production of secreted proteases, all occurred independently of acidic amino acids in the extracytoplasmic sensor loop of GraS that were previously found to be required for sensing of CAMPs. Cumulatively, our data indicate that signaling through GraS at acidic pH occurs through a mechanism that is distinct from that described for CAMPs, leading to increased resistance to antimicrobial uFFA and production of secreted proteases.IMPORTANCE Staphylococcus aureus asymptomatically colonizes 30% of humans but is also a leading cause of infectious morbidity and mortality. Since infections are typically initiated by the same strain associated with asymptomatic colonization of the nose or skin, it is important to understand how the microbe can endure exposure to harsh conditions that successfully restrict the growth of other bacteria, including a combination of acidic pH, antimicrobial peptides, and antimicrobial fatty acids. The significance of our research is in showing that acidic pH combined with antimicrobial peptide or environmental calcium can signal through a single membrane sensor protein to promote traits that may aid in survival, including modification of cell surface properties, increased resistance to antimicrobial fatty acids, and enhanced production of secreted proteases. Copyright © 2020 American Society for Microbiology.


Robert C Kuiack, Ruud A W Veldhuizen, Martin J McGavin. Novel Functions and Signaling Specificity for the GraS Sensor Kinase of Staphylococcus aureus in Response to Acidic pH. Journal of bacteriology. 2020 Oct 22;202(22)

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PMID: 32868405

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