Infection by Staphylococcus aureus strain USA300 causes tissue injury, multiorgan failure, and high mortality. However, the mechanisms by which the bacteria adhere to, then stabilize on, mucosal surfaces before causing injury remain unclear. We addressed these issues through the first real-time determinations of USA300-alveolar interactions in live lungs. We found that within minutes, inhaled USA300 established stable, self-associated microaggregates in niches at curved, but not at flat, regions of the alveolar wall. The microaggregates released α-hemolysin toxin, causing localized alveolar injury, as indicated by epithelial dye loss, mitochondrial depolarization, and cytosolic Ca2+ increase. Spread of cytosolic Ca2+ through intercellular gap junctions to adjoining, uninfected alveoli caused pulmonary edema. Systemic pretreatment with vancomycin, a USA300-cidal antibiotic, failed to protect mice infected with inhaled WT USA300. However, vancomycin pretreatment markedly abrogated mortality in mice infected with mutant USA300 that lacked the aggregation-promoting factor PhnD. We interpret USA300-induced mortality as having resulted from rapid bacterial aggregation in alveolar niches. These findings indicate, for the first time to our knowledge, that alveolar microanatomy is critical in promoting the aggregation and, hence, in causing USA300-induced alveolar injury. We propose that in addition to antibiotics, strategies for bacterial disaggregation may constitute novel therapy against USA300-induced lung injury.


Jaime L. Hook, Mohammad N. Islam, Dane Parker, Alice S. Prince, Sunita Bhattacharya, Jahar Bhattacharya


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