is a major cause of corneal infections that can cause reduced vision, even blindness. Secreted toxins cause tissue damage and inflammation resulting in scars that lead to vision loss. Identifying tissue damaging proteins is a prerequisite to limiting these harmful reactions. The present study characterized a previously unrecognized S. aureus
toxin. This secreted toxin was purified from strain Newman ΔhlaΔhlg
, the N-terminal sequence determined, the gene cloned, and the purified recombinant protein was tested in the rabbit cornea. The virulence of a toxin deletion mutant was compared to its parent and the mutant after gene restoration (rescue strain). The toxin (23 kDa) had an N-terminal sequence matching the Newman superantigen-like protein SSL1. An SSL1 homodimer (46 kDa) had proteolytic activity as demonstrated by zymography and cleavage of a synthetic substrate, collagens, and cytokines (IL-17A, IFN-γ, and IL-8); the protease was susceptible to serine protease inhibitors. As compared to the parent and rescue strains, the ssl1
mutant had significantly reduced virulence, but not reduced bacterial growth, in vivo. The ocular isolates tested had the ssl1
gene, with allele type 2 being the predominant type. SSL1 is a protease with corneal virulence and activity on host defense and structural proteins.
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