beta-lactam antibiotics induce the SOS response and horizontal transfer of virulence factors in Staphylococcus aureus
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Antibiotics that interfere with DNA replication and cell viability activate the SOS response. In Staphylococcus aureus, the antibiotic-induced SOS response promotes replication and high-frequency horizontal transfer of pathogenicity island-encoded virulence factors. Here we report that beta-lactams induce a bona fide SOS response in S. aureus, characterized by the activation of the RecA and LexA proteins, the two master regulators of the SOS response. Moreover, we show that beta-lactams are capable of triggering staphylococcal prophage induction in S. aureus lysogens. Consequently, and as previously described for SOS induction by commonly used fluoroquinolone antibiotics, beta-lactam-mediated phage induction also resulted in replication and high-frequency transfer of the staphylococcal pathogenicity islands, showing that such antibiotics may have the unintended consequence of promoting the spread of bacterial virulence factors.