Adhesion of Staphylococcus aureus to Corneocytes from Atopic Dermatitis Patients Is Controlled by Natural Moisturizing Factor Levels

Cécile Feuillie, Pauline Vitry, Maeve A McAleer, Sanja Kezic, Alan D Irvine, Joan A Geoghegan, Yves F Dufrêne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus plays an important role in atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic disorder that mostly affects children. Colonization of the skin of AD patients by S. aureus exacerbates the disease, but the molecular determinants of the bacterium-skin adhesive interactions are poorly understood. Specifically, reduced levels of natural moisturizing factor (NMF) in the stratum corneum have been shown to be associated with more severe AD symptoms, but whether this is directly related to S. aureus adhesion is still an open question. Here, we demonstrate a novel relationship between NMF expression in AD skin and strength of bacterial adhesion. Low-NMF corneocytes, unlike high-NMF ones, are covered by a dense layer of nanoscale villus protrusions. S. aureus bacteria isolated from AD skin bind much more strongly to corneocytes when the NMF level is reduced. Strong binding forces originate from a specific interaction between the bacterial adhesion clumping factor B (ClfB) and skin ligands. Remarkably, mechanical tension dramatically strengthens ClfB-mediated adhesion, as observed with catch bonds, demonstrating that physical stress plays a role in promoting colonization of AD skin by S. aureus Collectively, our findings demonstrate that patient NMF levels regulate the strength of S. aureus-corneocyte adhesion, the first step in skin colonization, and suggest that the ClfB binding mechanism could represent a potential target for new therapeutic treatments.IMPORTANCE Bacterium-skin interactions play important roles in skin disorders, yet their molecular details are poorly understood. In this study, we decipher the molecular forces at play during adhesion of Staphylococcus aureus to skin corneocytes in the clinically important context of atopic dermatitis (AD), also known as eczema. We identify a unique relationship between the level of natural moisturizing factor (NMF) in the skin and the strength of bacterium-corneocyte adhesion. Bacterial adhesion is primarily mediated by the surface protein clumping factor B (ClfB) and is enhanced by physical stress, highlighting the role of protein mechanobiology in skin colonization. Similar to a catch bond behavior, this mechanism represents a promising target for the development of novel antistaphylococcal agents.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2018 Feuillie et al.


  • Adhesins, Bacterial/metabolism
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Dermatitis, Atopic/microbiology
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins/metabolism
  • Keratinocytes/microbiology
  • Protein Binding
  • Skin/microbiology
  • Staphylococcal Infections/microbiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus/physiology


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