Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a human pathogen that relies on the subversion of host phagocytes to support its pathogenic lifestyle. S. aureus strains can produce up to five beta-barrel, bi-component, pore-forming leukocidins that target and kill host phagocytes. Thus, preventing immune cell killing by these toxins is likely to boost host immunity. Here, we describe the identification of glycine-rich motifs within the membrane-penetrating stem domains of the leukocidin subunits that are critical for killing primary human neutrophils. Remarkably, leukocidins lacking these glycine-rich motifs exhibit dominant-negative inhibitory effects toward their wild-type toxin counterparts as well as other leukocidins. Biochemical and cellular assays revealed that these dominant-negative toxins work by forming mixed complexes that are impaired in pore formation. The dominant-negative leukocidins inhibited S. aureus cytotoxicity toward primary human neutrophils, protected mice from lethal challenge by wild-type leukocidin, and reduced bacterial burden in a murine model of bloodstream infection. Thus, we describe the first example of staphylococcal bi-component dominant-negative toxins and their potential as novel therapeutics to combat S. aureus infection.
© 2016 The Authors.