S. aureus counters phosphate limitation by scavenging wall teichoic acids from other staphylococci via the teichoicase GlpQ

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Ana Maria Jorge
  • Jonathan Schneider
  • Sandra Unsleber
  • Christoph Mayer
  • Andreas Peschel


Staphylococcus aureus is part of the human nasal and skin microbiomes along with other bacterial commensals and opportunistic pathogens. Nutrients are scarce in these habitats, demanding effective nutrient acquisition and competition strategies. How S. aureus copes with phosphate limitation is still unknown. Wall teichoic acid (WTA), a polyol-phosphate polymer, could serve as a phosphate source but whether S. aureus can utilize it during phosphate starvation remains unknown. S. aureus secretes a glycerophosphodiesterase, GlpQ, that cleaves a broad variety of glycerol-3-phosphate (GroP) head groups of deacylated phospholipids, providing this bacterium with GroP as a carbon and phosphate source. Here, we demonstrate that GlpQ can also use glycerophosphoglycerol derived from GroP WTA from coagulase-negative Staphylococcus lugdunensis, Staphylococcus capitis, and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which share the nasal and skin habitats with S. aureus Therefore, S. aureus GlpQ is the first reported WTA-hydrolyzing enzyme, or teichoicase, from Staphylococcus Activity assays revealed that unmodified WTA is the preferred GlpQ substrate and results from MS analysis suggested that GlpQ uses an exolytic cleavage mechanism. Importantly, GlpQ did not hydrolyze the ribitol-5-phosphate WTA polymers of S. aureus, underscoring its role in interspecies competition, rather than in S. aureus cell wall homeostasis or WTA recycling. glpQ expression was strongly up-regulated under phosphate limitation, and GlpQ allowed S. aureus to grow in the presence of GroP WTA as the sole phosphate source. Our study reveals a novel and unprecedented strategy of S. aureus for acquiring phosphate from bacterial competitors under the phosphate-limiting conditions in the nasal or skin environments.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of biological chemistry
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018