Conversion of staphylococcal pathogenicity islands to CRISPR-carrying antibacterial agents that cure infections in mice


Staphylococcus aureus and other staphylococci continue to cause life-threatening infections in both hospital and community settings1,2,3. They have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, especially β-lactams and aminoglycosides, and their infections are now, in many cases, untreatable. Here we present a non-antibiotic, non-phage method of treating staphylococcal infections by engineering of the highly mobile staphylococcal pathogenicity islands (SaPIs). We replaced the SaPIs' toxin genes with antibacterial cargos to generate antibacterial drones (ABDs) that target the infecting bacteria in the animal host, express their cargo, kill or disarm the bacteria and thus abrogate the infection. Here we have constructed ABDs with either a CRISPR–Cas9 bactericidal or a CRISPR–dCas9 virulence-blocking module. We show that both ABDs block the development of a murine subcutaneous S. aureus abscess and that the bactericidal module rescues mice given a lethal dose of S. aureus intraperitoneally.

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Figure 1: SaPI and ABD structures.
Figure 2: ABD activities in vitro.
Figure 3: ABD blockade or cure of murine infections.


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This work was supported by NIH grant R01-AI22159 to RPN and by a grant-in-aid from NYU School of Medicine. The animal experiments described in this paper were conducted in conformity with all relevant ethical regulations, under IACUC protocol 160722-01, approved by the NYUSOM IACUC on 7/21/16.

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R.P.N., H.F.R. and G.R. planned and discussed the experiments. H.F.R. had the initial idea; G.R. and H.F.R. did the cloning; G.R. performed the in vitro tests; I.R.-P. and R.P.N. did the mouse experiments; D.J. did the DNA preparations; and R.P.N. did the microbiological work and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Geeta Ram or Hope F Ross or Richard P Novick.

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Competing interests

A patent application has been filed by New York University, with G.R., H.F.R. and R.P.N. as inventors, on the basis of results presented in this paper.

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Ram, G., Ross, H., Novick, R. et al. Conversion of staphylococcal pathogenicity islands to CRISPR-carrying antibacterial agents that cure infections in mice. Nat Biotechnol 36, 971–976 (2018).

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