Bringing together what belongs together: Optimizing murine infection models by using mouse-adapted Staphylococcus aureus strains
Staphylococcus (S.) aureus is a leading cause of bacterial infection world-wide, and currently no vaccine is available for humans. Vaccine development relies heavily on clinically relevant infection models. However, the suitability of mice for S. aureus infection models has often been questioned, because experimental infection of mice with human-adapted S. aureus requires very high infection doses. Moreover, mice were not considered to be natural hosts of S. aureus. The latter has been disproven by our recent findings, showing that both laboratory mice, as well as wild small mammals including mice, voles, and shrews, are naturally colonized with S. aureus. Here, we investigated whether mouse-and vole-derived S. aureus strains show an enhanced virulence in mice as compared to the human-adapted strain Newman. Using a step-wise approach based on the bacterial genotype and in vitro assays for host adaptation, we selected the most promising candidates for murine infection models out of a total of 254 S. aureus isolates from laboratory mice as well as wild rodents and shrews. Four strains representing the clonal complexes (CC) 8, 49, and 88 (n = 2) were selected and compared to the human-adapted S. aureus strain Newman (CC8) in murine pneumonia and bacteremia models. Notably, a bank vole-derived CC49 strain, named DIP, was highly virulent in BALB/c mice in pneumonia and bacteremia models, whereas the other murine and vole strains showed virulence similar to or lower than that of Newman. At one tenth of the standard infection dose DIP induced disease severity, bacterial load and host cytokine and chemokine responses in the murine bacteremia model similar to that of Newman. In the pneumonia model, DIP was also more virulent than Newman but the effect was less pronounced. Whole genome sequencing data analysis identified a pore-forming toxin gene, lukF-PV(P83)/lukM, in DIP but not in the other tested S. aureus isolates. To conclude, the mouse-adapted S. aureus strain DIP allows a significant reduction of the inoculation dose in mice and is hence a promising tool to develop clinically more relevant infection models.