Transcriptional adaptations during long-term persistence of Staphylococcus aureus in the airways of a cystic fibrosis patient.
The lungs of Cystic fibrosis (CF) patients are often colonized and/or infected by Staphylococcus aureus for years, mostly by one predominant clone. For long-term survival in this environment, S. aureus needs to adapt during its interactions with host factors, antibiotics, and other pathogens. Here, we study long-term transcriptional as well as genomic adaptations of an isogenic pair of S. aureus isolates from a single patient using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). Mimicking in vivo conditions, we cultivated the S. aureus isolates using artificial sputum medium before harvesting RNA for subsequent analysis. We confirmed our RNA-Seq data using quantitative real-time (qRT)-PCR and additionally investigated intermediate isolates from the same patient representing in total 13.2 years of persistence in the CF airways. Comparative RNA-Seq analysis of the first and the last (“late”) isolate revealed significant differences in the late isolate after 13.2 years of persistence. Of the 2545 genes expressed in both isolates that were cultivated aerobically, 256 genes were up- and 161 were down-regulated with a minimum 2-fold change (2f). Focusing on 25 highly (=8f) up- (n=9) or down- (n=16) regulated genes, we identified several genes encoding for virulence factors involved in immune evasion, bacterial spread or secretion (e.g. spa, sak, and esxA). Moreover, these genes displayed similar expression trends under aerobic, microaerophilic and anaerobic conditions. Further qRT-PCR-experiments of highly up- or down-regulated genes within intermediate S. aureus isolates resulted in different gene expression patterns over the years. Using sequencing analysis of the differently expressed genes and their upstream regions in the late S. aureus isolate resulted in only few genomic alterations. Comparative transcriptomic analysis revealed adaptive changes affecting mainly genes involved in host-pathogen interaction. Although the underlying mechanisms were not known, our results suggest adaptive processes beyond genomic mutations triggered by local factors rather than by activation of global regulators. Copyright © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH.. All rights reserved.