Staphylococcal superantigens (SAgs) are a family of secreted toxins that stimulate T cell activation and are associated with an array of diseases in humans and livestock. Most SAgs produced by Staphylococcus aureus are encoded by mobile genetic elements such as pathogenicity islands, bacteriophages and plasmids in a strain dependent manner. Here, we carried out a population genomic analysis of >800 staphylococcal isolates representing the breadth of S. aureus diversity to investigate the distribution of all 26 identified SAg genes. Up to 14 SAg genes were identified per isolate with the most common gene selw (encoding a putative SAg, SElW) identified in 97% of isolates. Most isolates (62.5%) have a full-length open reading frame of selw with an alternative TTG start codon that may have precluded functional characterization of SElW to date. Here, we demonstrate that S. aureus uses the TTG start codon to translate a potent SAg SElW that induces Vβ-specific T cell proliferation, a defining feature of classical SAgs. SElW is the only SAg predicted to be expressed by isolates of the CC398 lineage, an important human and livestock epidemic clone. Deletion of selw in a representative CC398 clinical isolate S. aureus NM001, resulted in complete loss of T cell mitogenicity in vitro, and in vivo expression of SElW by S. aureus increased the bacterial load in the liver during bloodstream infection of SAgsensitive HLA-DR4 transgenic mice. Taken together, we report the characterization of a novel, highly prevalent, and potent SAg that contributes to the pathogenesis of S.aureus infection.
- Staphylococcus aureus
- T cells