Nasal mucosa, Peptides, Phylogeny, Staphylococcus, Staphylococcus aureus infections


Staphylococcus is a significant cause of human infection and mortality, worldwide. Currently, there are greater than 60 taxa within Staphylococcus, and nearly all are pathogenic. The collective potential for virulence among species of Staphylococcus heightens the overall clinical significance of this genus and argues for a thorough understanding of the evolutionary relationships among species. Within Staphylococcus, aureus is the most common cause of human infection, where nasal carriage of this bacterium is a known risk factor for autoinfection. The predisposition to infection by nasal carriers of S. aureus, and the ease with which strains are transferred between individuals, suggests that nasal carriage is a major vector for the transmission of virulent strains throughout the community. This hypothesis, however, has not been assessed in any great detail to identify the genetic relationships between clinical isolates of S. aureus and those strains being carried asymptomatically throughout the community. Also lacking within this field is a unified and robust estimate of phylogeny among species of Staphylococcus. Here, we report on a highly unified species phylogeny for Staphylococcus that has been derived using multilocus nucleotide data under multiple Bayesian and maximum likelihood approaches. Our findings are in general agreement with previous reports of the staphylococcal phylogeny, although we identify multiple previously unreported relationships. Regardless of methodology, strong nodal support and high topological agreement was observed with only minor variations in results between methods. Based on our phylogenetic estimates, we propose that Staphylococcus species can be evolutionarily clustered into 15 groups, and six species groups. In addition, our more defined phylogenetic analyses of S. aureus revealed strong genetic associations between both nasal carriage strains and clinical isolates. Genetic analyses of hypervariable regions from virulence genes revealed that not only do clinically relevant strains belong to identical genetic lineages as the nasal carriage isolates, but they also exhibited 100% sequence similarity within these regions. Our findings indicate that strains of S. aureus being carried asymptomatically throughout the community via nasal colonization are genetically related to those responsible for high levels of infection and mortality. Due to nasal carriage of S. aureus being a risk factor for autoinfection, standardized preoperative decolonization has become a major consideration for the prevention of nosocomial infection. Toward this end, we have identified the macrocyclic ?-defensin analogue RC-101 as a promising anti-S. aureus agent for nasal decolonization. RC-101 exhibited bactericidal effects against S. aureus in both epithelium-free systems, and ex vivo models containing human airway epithelia. Importantly, RC-101 exhibited potent anti-S. aureus activities against all strains tested, including USA300. Moreover, RC-101 significantly reduced the adherence, survival, and proliferation of S. aureus on human airway epithelia without any noted cellular toxicity or the induction of a proinflammatory response. Collectively, our findings identify RC-101 as a potential preventative of S. aureus nasal colonization.


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Graduation Date





Cole, Alexander


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Molecular Biology and Microbiology

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences








Release Date


Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Graduate Studies, Graduate Studies -- Dissertations, Academic