Several members of the staphylococcal phenol-soluble modulin (PSM) peptide family exhibit pronounced capacities to lyse eukaryotic cells, such as neutrophils, monocytes, and erythrocytes. This is commonly assumed to be due to the amphipathic, α-helical structure of PSMs, giving PSMs detergent-like characteristics and allowing for a relatively non-specific destruction of biological membranes. However, the capacities of PSMs to lyse synthetic phospholipid vesicles have not been investigated. Here, we analyzed lysis of synthetic phosphatidylcholine (1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, POPC) vesicles by all Staphylococcus aureus
and S. epidermidis
PSMs. In addition, we investigated the lytic capacities of culture filtrates obtained from different S. aureus
PSM deletion mutants toward POPC vesicles. Our results show that all staphylococcal PSMs have phospholipid vesicle-lysing activity and the capacity of S. aureus
culture filtrate to lyse POPC vesicles is exclusively dependent on PSMs. Notably, we observed largely differing capacities among PSM peptides to lyse POPC vesicles. Interestingly, POPC vesicle-lytic capacities did not correlate with those previously seen for the lysis of eukaryotic cells. For example, the β-type PSMs were strongly lytic for POPC vesicles, but are known to exhibit only very low lytic capacities toward neutrophils and erythrocytes. Thus our results also suggest that the interaction between PSMs and eukaryotic membranes is more specific than previously assumed, potentially depending on additional structural features of those membranes, such as phospholipid composition or yet unidentified docking molecules.