Iron is required for bacterial proliferation, and Staphylococcus aureus steals this metal from host hemoglobin during invasive infections. This process involves hemoglobin binding to the cell wall of S. aureus, heme extraction, passage through the cell envelope, and degradation to release free iron. Herein, we demonstrate an enhanced ability of S. aureus to bind hemoglobin derived from humans as compared to other mammals. Increased specificity for human hemoglobin (hHb) translates into an improved ability to acquire iron and is entirely dependent on the staphylococcal hemoglobin receptor IsdB. This feature affects host-pathogen interaction as demonstrated by the increased susceptibility of hHb-expressing mice to systemic staphylococcal infection. Interestingly, enhanced utilization of human hemoglobin is not a uniform property of all bacterial pathogens. These results suggest a step in the evolution of S. aureus to better colonize the human host and establish hHb-expressing mice as a model of S. aureus pathogenesis.
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