Force-Induced Strengthening of the Interaction between Staphylococcus aureus Clumping Factor B and Loricrin

Pauline Vitry, Claire Valotteau, Cécile Feuillie, Simon Bernard, David Alsteens, Joan A Geoghegan, Yves F Dufrêne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial pathogens that colonize host surfaces are subjected to physical stresses such as fluid flow and cell surface contacts. How bacteria respond to such mechanical cues is an important yet poorly understood issue. Staphylococcus aureus uses a repertoire of surface proteins to resist shear stress during the colonization of host tissues, but whether their adhesive functions can be modulated by physical forces is not known. Here, we show that the interaction of S. aureus clumping factor B (ClfB) with the squamous epithelial cell envelope protein loricrin is enhanced by mechanical force. We find that ClfB mediates S. aureus adhesion to loricrin through weak and strong molecular interactions both in a laboratory strain and in a clinical isolate. Strong forces (~1,500 pN), among the strongest measured for a receptor-ligand bond, are consistent with a high-affinity "dock, lock, and latch" binding mechanism involving dynamic conformational changes in the adhesin. Notably, we demonstrate that the strength of the ClfB-loricrin bond increases as mechanical force is applied. These findings favor a two-state model whereby bacterial adhesion to loricrin is enhanced through force-induced conformational changes in the ClfB molecule, from a weakly binding folded state to a strongly binding extended state. This force-sensitive mechanism may provide S. aureus with a means to finely tune its adhesive properties during the colonization of host surfaces, helping cells to attach firmly under high shear stress and to detach and spread under low shear stress.IMPORTANCEStaphylococcus aureus colonizes the human skin and the nose and can cause various disorders, including superficial skin lesions and invasive infections. During nasal colonization, the S. aureus surface protein clumping factor B (ClfB) binds to the squamous epithelial cell envelope protein loricrin, but the molecular interactions involved are poorly understood. Here, we unravel the molecular mechanism guiding the ClfB-loricrin interaction. We show that the ClfB-loricrin bond is remarkably strong, consistent with a high-affinity "dock, lock, and latch" binding mechanism. We discover that the ClfB-loricrin interaction is enhanced under tensile loading, thus providing evidence that the function of an S. aureus surface protein can be activated by physical stress.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2017 Vitry et al.


  • Adhesins, Bacterial/chemistry
  • Bacterial Adhesion/physiology
  • Bacterial Proteins/chemistry
  • Epithelial Cells/metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins/metabolism
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Domains
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Skin/cytology
  • Staphylococcal Infections/metabolism
  • Staphylococcus aureus/cytology
  • Stress, Mechanical


Dive into the research topics of 'Force-Induced Strengthening of the Interaction between Staphylococcus aureus Clumping Factor B and Loricrin'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this