Staphylococcus aureus is a facultative, Gram-positive coccus well known for its disease-causing capabilities. In particular, methicillin and vancomycin resistant strains of S. aureus (MRSA and VRSA, respectively) isolated globally represent daunting medical challenges for the 21st Century. This bacterium causes numerous illnesses in humans such as food poisoning, skin infections, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, pneumonia, enterocolitis, toxic shock, and autoimmune disorders. A few of the many virulence factors attributed to S. aureus include antibiotic resistance, capsule, coagulase, lipase, hyaluronidase, protein A, fibronectin-binding protein, and multiple toxins with diverse activities. One family of protein toxins is the staphylococcal enterotoxins (SEs) and related toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1) that act as superantigens. There are more than twenty different SEs described to date with varying amino acid sequences, common conformations, and similar biological effects. By definition, very low (picomolar) concentrations of these superantigenic toxins activate specific T-cell subsets after binding to major histocompatibility complex class II. Activated T-cells vigorously proliferate and release proinflammatory cytokines plus chemokines that can elicit fever, hypotension, and other ailments which include a potentially lethal shock. In vitro and in vivo models are available for studying the SEs and TSST-1, thus providing important tools for understanding modes of action and subsequently countering these toxins via experimental vaccines or therapeutics. This review succinctly presents the pathogenic ways of S. aureus, with a toxic twist. There will be a particular focus upon the biological and biochemical properties of, plus current neutralization strategies targeting, staphylcoccocal superantigens like the SEs and TSST-1.
Keywords: Animal model, cytokine, immunotherapeutic, receptor, Stapylococcus aureus, superantigen, toxic shock, vaccine