Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Kimberly K. Jefferson


Staphylococcus aureus is the causative agent of a diverse array of acute and chronic infections, and some these infections, including infective endocarditis, joint infections, and medical device-associated bloodstream infections, depend upon its capacity to form tenacious biofilms on surfaces. Inserted medical devices such as intravenous catheters, pacemakers, and artificial heart valves save lives, but unfortunately, they can also serve as a substrate on which S. aureus can form a biofilm, attributing S. aureus as a leading cause of medical device-related infections. The major aim of this work was take compounds to which S. aureus would be exposed during infection and to investigate their effects on its capacity to form a biofilm. More specifically, the project investigated the effects of serum, and thereafter of catheter lock solutions on biofilm formation by S. aureus. Pre-coating polystyrene with serum is frequently used as a method to augment biofilm formation. The effect of pre-coating with serum is due to the deposition of extracellular matrix components onto the polystyrene, which are then recognized by MSCRAMMs. We therefore hypothesized that the major component of blood, serum, would induce biofilm formation. Surprisingly, serum actually inhibited biofilm formation. The inhibitory activity was due to a small molecular weight, heat-stable, non-proteinaceous component/s of serum. Serum-mediated inhibition of biofilm formation may represent a previously uncharacterized aspect of host innate immunity that targets the expression of a key bacterial virulence factor: the ability to establish a resistant biofilm. Metal ion chelators like sodium citrate are frequently chosen to lock intravenous catheters because they are regarded as potent inhibitors of bacterial biofilm formation and viability. We found that, while chelating compounds abolished biofilm formation in most strains of S. aureus, they actually augmented the phenotype in a subset of strains. We investigated the molecular basis of this phenomenon. Deletion and complementation analysis and thereafter antibody based inhibition assays confirmed a functional role for the surface adhesin clumping factor B as the causative determinant associated with the increased biofilm phenotype. Finally, we investigated the regulation of clumping factor B-mediated biofilm formation and the basis for the strain dependence. Regulation was determined to occur via two novel post-translational networks- one affecting ClfB activity, mediated by Ca2+ binding to the EF-Hand domain, and the other affecting protein stability, mediated by the enzymatic activity of the metalloprotease-aureolysin. Polymorphisms within the aureolysin gene sequence, between strains, was identified as the basis for some strains forming robust biofilms within chelated media versus other than do not exhibit this phenotype.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2011