Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are pathogenic bacteria that are infamously resistant to β-lactam antibiotics, a property attributed to the mecA gene. Recent studies have reported that mutations associated with the promoter region of pbp4 demonstrated high levels of β-lactam resistance, suggesting the role of PBP4 as an important non- mecA mediator of β-lactam resistance. The pbp4 promoter-associated mutations have been detected in strains with or without mecA . Our previous studies that were carried out in strains devoid of mecA described that pbp4 promoter-associated mutations lead to PBP4 overexpression and β-lactam resistance. In this study, by introducing various pbp4 promoter-associated mutations in the genome of an MRSA strain, we demonstrate that PBP4 overexpression can supplement mecA -associated resistance in S. aureus and can lead to increased β-lactam resistance. The promoter and regulatory region of pbp4 is shared with a divergently transcribed gene, abcA , which encodes for a multidrug exporter. We demonstrate that the promoter mutations caused an upregulation of pbp4 and downregulation of abcA , confirming that the resistant phenotype is associated with PBP4 overexpression only. PBP4 has also been associated with staphylococcal pathogenesis, however, its exact role remains unclear. Using a C. elegans model, we demonstrate that strains having increased PBP4 expression are less virulent compared to wild-type strains, suggesting that β-lactam resistance mediated via PBP4 likely comes at the cost of virulence.
Our study demonstrates the ability of PBP4 to be an important mediator of β-lactam resistance in not only Methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) background strains as previously demonstrated, but also in MRSA strains. When present together, PBP2a and PBP4 overexpression can produce increased levels of β-lactam resistance, causing complications in treatment. Thus, this study suggests the importance of monitoring PBP4-associated resistance in clinical settings, as well as understanding the mechanistic basis of associated resistance, so that treatments targeting PBP4 may be developed. This study also demonstrates that S. aureus strains with increased PBP4 expression are less pathogenic, providing important hints about the role of PBP4 in S. aureus resistance and pathogenesis.