Background: Superantigens are indispensable virulence factors for Staphylococcus aureus in disease causation. Superantigens stimulate massive immune cell activation, leading to toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and contributing to other illnesses. However, superantigens differ in their capacities to induce body-wide effects. For many, their production, at least as tested in vitro, is not high enough to reach the circulation, or the proteins are not efficient in crossing epithelial and endothelial barriers, thus remaining within tissues or localized on mucosal surfaces where they exert only local effects. In this study, we address the role of TSS toxin-1 (TSST-1) and most importantly the enterotoxin gene cluster (egc) in infective endocarditis and sepsis, gaining insights into the body-wide versus local effects of superantigens. Methods: We examined S. aureus TSST-1 gene (tstH) and egc deletion strains in the rabbit model of infective endocarditis and sepsis. Importantly, we also assessed the ability of commercial human intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) plus vancomycin to alter the course of infective endocarditis and sepsis. Results: TSST-1 contributed to infective endocarditis vegetations and lethal sepsis, while superantigens of the egc, a cluster with uncharacterized functions in S. aureus infections, promoted vegetation formation in infective endocarditis. IVIG plus vancomycin prevented lethality and stroke development in infective endocarditis and sepsis. Conclusions: Our studies support the local tissue effects of egc superantigens for establishment and progression of infective endocarditis providing evidence for their role in life-threatening illnesses. In contrast, TSST-1 contributes to both infective endocarditis and lethal sepsis. IVIG may be a useful adjunct therapy for infective endocarditis and sepsis.
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© 2016 Stach et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.