Identification of extracellular DNA-binding proteins in the biofilm matrix

Jeffrey S. Kavanaugh, Caralyn E. Flack, Jessica Lister, Erica B. Ricker, Carolyn B. Ibberson, Christian Jenul, Derek E. Moormeier, Elizabeth A. Delmain, Kenneth W. Bayles, Alexander R. Horswill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


We developed a new approach that couples Southwestern blotting and mass spectrometry to discover proteins that bind extracellular DNA (eDNA) in bacterial biofilms. Using Staphylococcus aureus as a model pathogen, we identified proteins with known DNA-binding activity and uncovered a series of lipoproteins with previously unrecognized DNA-binding activity. We demonstrated that expression of these lipoproteins results in an eDNA-dependent biofilm enhancement. Additionally, we found that while deletion of lipoproteins had a minimal impact on biofilm accumulation, these lipoprotein mutations increased biofilm porosity, suggesting that lipoproteins and their associated interactions contribute to biofilm structure. For one of the lipoproteins, SaeP, we showed that the biofilm phenotype requires the lipoprotein to be anchored to the outside of the cellular membrane, and we further showed that increased SaeP expression correlates with more retention of high-molecular-weight DNA on the bacterial cell surface. SaeP is a known auxiliary protein of the SaeRS system, and we also demonstrated that the levels of SaeP correlate with nuclease production, which can further impact biofilm development. It has been reported that S. aureus biofilms are stabilized by positively charged cytoplasmic proteins that are released into the extracellular environment, where they make favorable electrostatic interactions with the negatively charged cell surface and eDNA. In this work we extend this electrostatic net model to include secreted eDNA-binding proteins and membrane-attached lipoproteins that can function as anchor points between eDNA in the biofilm matrix and the bacterial cell surface. IMPORTANCE Many bacteria are capable of forming biofilms encased in a matrix of self-produced extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) that protects them from che-motherapies and the host defenses. As a result of these inherent resistance mechanisms, bacterial biofilms are extremely difficult to eradicate and are associated with chronic wounds, orthopedic and surgical wound infections, and invasive infections, such as infective endocarditis and osteomyelitis. It is therefore important to understand the nature of the interactions between the bacterial cell surface and EPS that stabilize biofilms. Extracellular DNA (eDNA) has been recognized as an EPS constituent for many bacterial species and has been shown to be important in promoting biofilm formation. Using Staphylococcus aureus biofilms, we show that membrane-attached lipoproteins can interact with the eDNA in the biofilm matrix and promote biofilm formation, which suggests that lipoproteins are potential targets for novel therapies aimed at disrupting bacterial biofilms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01137-19
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Biofilms
  • Extracellular DNA
  • MRSA
  • Nuclease
  • Southwestern blotting
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • eDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


Dive into the research topics of 'Identification of extracellular DNA-binding proteins in the biofilm matrix'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this