a1 Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada
Persistent or difficult-to-treat Staphylococcus aureus infections in animals and humans may be related to small colony variants (SCVs) that can hide inside host cells and modulate host defenses. S. aureus SCVs have gained much attention in human medicine but have been underestimated and overlooked in veterinary medicine. Recently, an SCV isolated from a dairy cow with a history of chronic mastitis was shown to possess similar phenotypic and transcriptomic properties to those of human SCVs. SCVs form small, colorless, non-hemolytic colonies after 48 h, are only slowly coagulase positive, fail to ferment mannitol, and can revert to the parental phenotype. The phenotype of SCVs is mostly related to alterations in hemin and/or menadione biosynthesis or to thymidine deficiency. Transcriptomic analysis of SCVs shows up-regulation of genes involved in glycolytic and arginine–deiminase pathways, capsular biosynthesis; increased sigma B activity; and down-regulation of genes for α-hemolysin, coagulase and effector molecule RNA III of the global virulence regulator Agr. Similar results are reported at the protein level. SCVs are less virulent but successful persisters in infection models. SCVs persist longer and at higher numbers within non-phagocytes than do their parents. SCVs survive within spacious vacuoles up to 24 h within cultured bovine mammary epithelial cells, likely due to up-regulation of protective mechanisms that counteract the lethal acidic environment of the phagolysosome. Persistence of SCVs within host cells may explain failures in antimicrobial therapy and vaccinations.
(Received December 08 2010)
(Accepted April 28 2011)
(Online publication June 15 2011)