The presence of a single MALDI-TOF mass spectral peak predicts methicillin resistance in staphylococci.
The phenol-soluble modulin PSM-mec is the only known staphylococcal toxin that is encoded on a mobile antibiotic resistance determinant, namely the staphylococcal cassette chromosome (SCC) element mec encoding resistance to methicillin. Here we show that the psm-mec gene is found frequently among methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of SCCmec types II, III, and VIII, and is a conserved part of the class A mec gene complex. Controlled expression of AgrA versus RNAIII in agr mutants of all 3 psm-mec-positive SCCmec types demonstrated that expression of psm-mec, which is highly variable, is controlled by AgrA in an RNAIII-independent manner. Furthermore, psm-mec isogenic deletion mutants showed only minor changes in PSMα peptide production and unchanged (or, as previously described, diminished) virulence compared to the corresponding wild-type strains in a mouse model of skin infection. This indicates that the recently reported regulatory impact of the psm-mec locus on MRSA virulence, which is opposite to that of the PSM-mec peptide and likely mediated by a regulatory RNA, is minor when analyzed in the original strain background. Our study gives new insight in the distribution, regulation, and role in virulence of the PSM-mec peptide and the psm-mec gene locus.