Staphylococcus aureus Responds to Physiologically Relevant Temperature Changes by Altering Its Global Transcript and Protein Profile

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Staphylococcus aureus is an opportunistic pathogen that colonizes the anterior nares of 30 to 50% of the population. Colonization is most often asymptomatic; however, self-inoculation can give rise to potentially fatal infections of the deeper tissues and blood. Like all bacteria, S. aureus can sense and respond to environmental cues and modify gene expression to adapt to specific environmental conditions. The transition of S. aureus from the nares to the deeper tissues and blood is accompanied by changes in environmental conditions, such as nutrient availability, pH, and temperature. In this study, we perform transcriptomics and proteomics on S. aureus cultures growing at three physiologically relevant temperatures, 34°C (nares), 37°C (body), and 40°C (pyrexia), to determine if small scale, biologically meaningful alterations in temperature impact S. aureus gene expression. Results show that small but definite temperature changes elicit a large-scale restructuring of the S. aureus transcriptome and proteome in a manner that, most often, inversely correlates with increasing temperature. We also provide evidence that a large majority of these changes are modulated at the posttranscriptional level, possibly by sRNA regulatory elements. Phenotypic analyses were also performed to demonstrate that these changes have physiological relevance. Finally, we investigate the impact of temperature-dependent alterations in gene expression on S. aureus pathogenesis and demonstrate decreased intracellular invasion of S. aureus grown at 34°C. Collectively, our results demonstrate that small but biologically meaningful alterations in temperature influence S. aureus gene expression, a process that is likely a major contributor to the transition from a commensal to pathogen.