is an important human pathogen whose success is largely attributed to its vast arsenal of virulence factors that facilitate its invasion into, and survival within, the human host. The expression of these virulence factors is controlled by the quorum sensing Accessory Gene Regulator (Agr) system. However, a large proportion of clinical isolates are consistently found to have a mutationally inactivated Agr system. These mutants have a survival advantage in the host but are considered irreversible mutants. Here we show, for the first time, that a fraction of Agr-negative mutants can revert their Agr activity. By serially passaging Agr negative strains and screening for phenotypic reversion of haemolysis and subsequent sequencing, we identified two mutational events responsible for reversion: a genetic duplication plus inversion event and a poly(A) tract alteration. Additionally, we demonstrate that one clinical Agr-negative MRSA isolate could reproducibly generate Agr-revertant colonies with a poly(A) tract genetic mechanism. We also show that these revertants activate their Agr system upon phagocytosis. To assess the significance of our findings we screened a series of primary clinical isolates, which had undergone minimal handling post-isolation, and successfully identified a fraction which were Agr phase variants. Taken together, we propose a model where some Agr-negative strains are phase variants who can revert their Agr activity and may act as a cryptic insurance strategy against host-mediated stress.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error