Precisely modulated pathogenicity island interference with late phage gene transcription

Geeta Ram, John Chen, Hope F. Ross, Richard P. Novick, James M. Musser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Having gone to great evolutionary lengths to develop resistance to bacteriophages, bacteria have come up with resistance mechanisms directed at every aspect of the bacteriophage life cycle. Most genes involved in phage resistance are carried by plasmids and other mobile genetic elements, including bacteriophages and their relatives. A very special case of phage resistance is exhibited by the highly mobile phage satellites, staphylococcal pathogenicity islands (SaPIs), which carry and disseminate superantigen and other virulence genes. Unlike the usual phage-resistance mechanisms, the SaPI-encoded interference mechanisms are carefully crafted to ensure that a phage-infected, SaPI-containing cell will lyse, releasing the requisite crop of SaPI particles as well as a greatly diminished crop of phage particles. Previously described SaPI interference genes target phage functions that are not required for SaPI particle production and release. Here we describe a SaPI-mediated interference system that affects expression of late phage gene transcription and consequently is required for SaPI and phage. Although when cloned separately, a single SaPI gene totally blocks phage production, its activity in situ is modulated accurately by a second gene, achieving the required level of interference. The advantage for the host bacteria is that the SaPIs curb excessive phage growth while enhancing their gene transfer activity. This activity is in contrast to that of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs), which totally block phage growth at the cost of phage-mediated gene transfer. In staphylococci the SaPI strategy seems to have prevailed during evolution: The great majority of Staphylococcus aureus strains carry one or more SaPIs, whereas CRISPRs are extremely rare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14536-14541
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 7 2014


  • Bacteriophage resistance
  • Helper phage
  • Transcription regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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