Distribution and infection-related functions of bacillithiol in Staphylococcus aureus

Dierk Christoph Pöther, Philipp Gierok, Manuela Harms, Jörg Mostertz, Falko Hochgräfe, Haike Antelmann, Chris J. Hamilton, Ilya Borovok, Michael Lalk, Yair Aharonowitz, Michael Hecker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacillithiol (Cys-GlcN-malate, BSH) serves as a major low molecular weight thiol in low GC Gram-positive bacteria including Bacillus species and a variety of Staphylococcus aureus strains. These bacteria do not produce glutathione (GSH). In this study, HPLC analyses were used to determine BSH levels in different S. aureus strains. Furthermore, the role of BSH in the resistance against oxidants and antibiotics and its function in virulence was investigated. We and others (Newton, G.L., Fahey, R.C., Rawat, M., 2012. Microbiology 158, 1117-1126) found that BSH is not produced by members of the S. aureus NCTC8325 lineage, such as strains 8325-4 and SH1000. Using bioinformatics we show that the BSH-biosynthetic gene bshC is disrupted by an 8-bp duplication in S. aureus NCTC8325. The functional bshC-gene from BSH-producing S. aureus Newman (NWMN_1087) was expressed in S. aureus 8325-4 to reconstitute BSH-synthesis. Comparison of the BSH-producing and BSH-minus strains revealed higher resistance of the BSH-producing strain against the antibiotic fosfomycin and the oxidant hypochlorite but not against hydrogen peroxide or diamide. In addition, a higher bacterial load of the BSH-producing strain was detected in human upper-airway epithelial cells and murine macrophages. This indicates a potential role of BSH in protection of S. aureus during infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-123
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Bacillithiol
  • BshC
  • Glutathione
  • Low molecular weight thiol
  • Staphylococcus aureus


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