Molecular epidemiology and expression of capsular polysaccharides in Staphylococcus aureus clinical isolates in the United States.


Staphylococcus aureus capsular polysaccharides (CP) are important virulence factors under evaluation as vaccine antigens. Clinical S. aureus isolates have the biosynthetic capability to express either CP5 or CP8 and an understanding of the relationship between CP genotype/phenotype and S. aureus epidemiology is valuable. Using whole genome sequencing, the clonal relatedness and CP genotype were evaluated for disease-associated S. aureus isolates selected from the Tigecycline Evaluation and Surveillance Trial (T.E.S.T) to represent different geographic regions in the United States (US) during 2004 and 2009-10. Thirteen prominent clonal complexes (CC) were identified, with CC5, 8, 30 and 45 representing >80% of disease isolates. CC5 and CC8 isolates were CP type 5 and, CC30 and CC45 isolates were CP type 8. Representative isolates from prevalent CC were susceptible to in vitro opsonophagocytic killing elicited by anti-CP antibodies, demonstrating that susceptibility to opsonic killing is not linked to the genetic lineage. However, as not all S. aureus isolates may express CP, isolates representing the diversity of disease isolates were assessed for CP production. While approximately 35% of isolates (primarily CC8) did not express CP in vitro, CP expression could be clearly demonstrated in vivo for 77% of a subset of these isolates (n = 20) despite the presence of mutations within the capsule operon. CP expression in vivo was also confirmed indirectly by measuring an increase in CP specific antibodies in mice infected with CP5 or CP8 isolates. Detection of antigen expression in vivo in relevant disease states is important to support the inclusion of these antigens in vaccines. Our findings confirm the validity of CP as vaccine targets and the potential of CP-based vaccines to contribute to S. aureus disease prevention.