Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The virulence and fitness in vivo of the major human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus are associated with a cell-to-cell signaling mechanism known as quorum sensing (QS). QS coordinates the production of virulence factors via the production and sensing of autoinducing peptide (AIP) signal molecules by the agr locus. Here we show, in a wax moth larva virulence model, that (i) QS in S. aureus is a cooperative social trait that provides a benefit to the local population of cells, (ii) agr mutants, which do not produce or respond to QS signal, are able to exploit the benefits provided by the QS of others ("cheat"), allowing them to increase in frequency when in mixed populations with cooperators, (iii) these social interactions between cells determine virulence, with the host mortality rate being negatively correlated to the percentage of agr mutants ("cheats") in a population, and (iv) a higher within-host relatedness (lower strain diversity) selects for QS and hence higher virulence. Our results provide an explanation for why agr mutants show reduced virulence in animal models but can be isolated from infections of humans. More generally, by providing the first evidence that QS is a cooperative social behavior in a Gram-positive bacterium, our results suggest convergent, and potentially widespread, evolution for signaling to coordinate cooperation in bacteria.

Original publication




Journal article


Infect Immun

Publication Date





1045 - 1051


Animals, Bacterial Proteins, Biological Evolution, Larva, Moths, Quorum Sensing, Staphylococcal Infections, Staphylococcus aureus, Virulence