Staphylococcus aureus preferentially liberates inorganic phosphate from organophosphates in environments where this nutrient is limiting

Jessica L. Kelliher, Aleeza J.Leder Macek, Kevin M. Grudzinski, Jana N. Radin, Thomas E. Kehl-Fie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phosphate is an essential nutrient that Staphylococcus aureus and other pathogens must acquire from the host during infection. While inorganic monophosphate (Pi) is the preferred source of this nutrient, bacteria can also obtain it from phosphate-containing organic molecules. The Pi-responsive regulator PhoPR is necessary for S. aureus to cause infection, suggesting that Pi is not freely available during infection and that this nutrient must be obtained from other sources. However, the organophosphates from which S. aureus can obtain phosphate are unknown. We evaluated the ability of 58 phosphorus-containing molecules to serve as phosphate sources for S. aureus. Forty-six of these compounds, including phosphorylated amino acids, sugars, and nucleotides, supported growth. Among the organophosphate sources was glycerol-3- phosphate (G3P), which is commonly found in the mammalian host. Differing from the model organism Escherichia coli, S. aureus does not import G3P intact to obtain Pi. Instead, S. aureus relies on the phosphatase PhoB to release Pi from G3P, which is subsequently imported by Pi transporters. To determine if this strategy is used by S. aureus to extract phosphate from other phosphate sources, we assessed the ability of PhoB- and Pi transporter-deficient strains to grow on the same library of phosphorus-containing molecules. Sixty percent of the substrates (28/46) relied on the PhoB/Pi transporter pathway, and an additional 10/46 (22%) were PhoB independent but still required Pi transport through the Pi transporters. Cumulatively, these results suggest that in Pi-limited environments, S. aureus preferentially generates Pi from organophosphates and then relies on Pi transporters to import this nutrient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00264-20
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Glycerol-3-phosphate
  • Organophosphate
  • Phosphate acquisition
  • Staphylococcus aureus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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