Membrane disruption by antimicrobial fatty acids releases low-molecular-weight proteins from Staphylococcus aureus.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The skin represents an important barrier for pathogens and is known to produce fatty acids that are toxic toward gram-positive bacteria. A screen of fatty acids as growth inhibitors of Staphylococcus aureus revealed structure-specific antibacterial activity. Fatty acids like oleate (18:1Δ9) were nontoxic, whereas palmitoleate (16:1Δ9) was a potent growth inhibitor. Cells treated with 16:1Δ9 exhibited rapid membrane depolarization, the disruption of all major branches of macromolecular synthesis, and the release of solutes and low-molecular-weight proteins into the medium. Other cytotoxic lipids, such as glycerol ethers, sphingosine, and acyl-amines blocked growth by the same mechanisms. Nontoxic 18:1Δ9 was used for phospholipid synthesis, whereas toxic 16:1Δ9 was not and required elongation to 18:1Δ11 prior to incorporation. However, blocking fatty acid metabolism using inhibitors to prevent acyl-acyl carrier protein formation or glycerol-phosphate acyltransferase activity did not increase the toxicity of 18:1Δ9, indicating that inefficient metabolism did not play a determinant role in fatty acid toxicity. Nontoxic 18:1Δ9 was as toxic as 16:1Δ9 in a strain lacking wall teichoic acids and led to growth arrest and enhanced release of intracellular contents. Thus, wall teichoic acids contribute to the structure-specific antimicrobial effects of unsaturated fatty acids. The ability of poorly metabolized 16:1 isomers to penetrate the cell wall defenses is a weakness that has been exploited by the innate immune system to combat S. aureus.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Parsons, JB; Yao, J; Frank, MW; Jackson, P; Rock, CO

Published Date

  • October 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 194 / 19

Start / End Page

  • 5294 - 5304

PubMed ID

  • 22843840

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3457211

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1098-5530

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0021-9193

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1128/jb.00743-12


  • eng