Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Dr. Gordon Archer


The gene encoding resistance to β-lactam antibiotics in the staphylococci is found on the chromosome in a genomic island designated Staphylococcal Chromosome Cassette mec or SCCmec. In addition to the resistance gene, mecA, SCCmec also contains site specific recombinase genes, ccrAB, that are capable of catalyzing the chromosomal excision and integration of SCCmec. The increasing prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections may be due, in part, to the transfer of SCCmec into successful methicillin-sensitive S. aureus lineages. In this work we attempt to better characterize the factors associated with SCCmec transfer, beginning with CcrAB-mediated SCCmec excision in a collection of MRSA containing type IV SCCmec. CcrAB-mediated excision of type IV SCCmec was not demonstrated for all strains tested, as a subset of S. aureus strains with type IV SCCmed did not excise their element. These strains are all highly related and represent a lineage of successful community associated pathogens. In addition, the inability to excise SCCmec in these strains is associated with the presence of a presumptive mobile element containing the gene for staphylococcal enterotoxin H (seh) immediately outside of SCCmec on the chromosome. Staphylococcus aureus strain USA300 contains SCCmec type IV and a genomic island containing an arginine deiminase pathway, known as ACME, inserted adjacent to one another in the SCCmec chromosomal attachment site. Each element was site-specifically excised from the chromosome by CcrAB, resulting in two independent, extra-chromosomal, circularized elements. Therefore the presence of ACME did not disrupt SCCmec excision.Next, we describe three MRSA strains that become resistant to vancomyein during passage on increasing concentrations of the drug. In each case, mecA was lost during passage. Strain 5836VR lost mecA by the site-specific chromosomal excision of SCCmec while the other two strains (3130VR and VP32) deleted portions of their SCCmec elements in a manner that appears to involve IS431. Conversion to vancomycin resistance caused a decrease in growth rate that was partially compensated for by deletion of mecA. In mixed culture competition experiements, vancomycin resistant strains that lacked mecA readily out-competed their mecA-containing counterparts, suggesting that the loss of mecA during conversion to vancomycin resistance was advantageous to the organism.Finally, we examined the genetic structure surrounding the SCCmec attachment site in a diverse collection of methicillin-sensitive S. aureus isolates. This region of the chromosome varies greatly from strain to strain and appaers to be prone to recomination. Open reading frames found in this region were homologous to enterotoxins, restriction-modification enzymes, and transposases. Several open reading frames that have not been previously reported in staphylococci were also present in this region. 28 out of the 42 isolates examined did not contain the attachment site sequence found in S. aureus isolates known to be capable of CcrAB-mediated SCCmec integration or excision. This may indicate that these strains do not contain a functional attachment site and therefore may not have the potential to acquire SCCmec by CcrAB-mediated recombination.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008