The coagulase-negative bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis is a member of the human skin microbiota. S. epidermidis is not merely a passive resident on skin but actively primes the cutaneous immune response, maintains skin homeostasis and prevents opportunistic pathogens from causing disease via colonization resistance. However, it is now appreciated that S. epidermidis and its interactions with the host exist on a spectrum of potential pathogenicity derived from its high strain-level heterogeneity. S. epidermidis is the most common cause of implant-associated infections and is a canonical opportunistic biofilm former. Additional emerging evidence suggests that some strains of S. epidermidis may contribute to the pathogenesis of common skin diseases. Here, we highlight new developments in our understanding of S. epidermidis strain diversity, skin colonization dynamics and its multifaceted interactions with the host and other members of the skin microbiota.
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M.M.S. was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Award Predoctoral Fellowship AI157052. A.R.H. was supported by the NIAID grants AI153185 and AI162964 and the US Department of Veteran Affairs grant BX002711.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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- Stratum corneum
The topmost layer of the epidermis, composed of dead keratinocytes linked together in a ‘brick and mortar’ structure by extracellular lipids.
A polypeptide secreted by Staphylococcus aureus that promotes blood clotting and was historically used to distinguish this organism from less pathogenic coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS) for clinical identification.
An enzyme that links surface proteins to the Gram-positive cell wall.
Dead keratinocytes that compose the topmost layer of the epidermis.
- Extracellular matrix
A structural support system within the dermal skin layer composed of various proteins including collagen and elastin.
A bacterial esterase, often implicated in virulence, that cleaves sphingomyelin.
The entire set of genes within a species, including conserved, core genes found in every strain and variable genes not conserved in every strain.
- KEGG modules
Families of genes that are linked to specific cellular functions.
- Phase variation
The reversible, heterogeneous switch in gene expression profiles within a clonal population of bacterial cells.
- Plasmacytoid dendritic cells
(pDCs). A specialized subpopulation of dendritic cells involved in immunosurveillance and antigen recognition.
The major intercellular adhesives within the stratum corneum.
- Netherton syndrome
A rare genetic disorder characterized by a mutation in a serine protease inhibitor that leads to severe, often life-threatening, skin abnormalities.
Ribosomally synthesized peptides made by many types of bacteria with varying mechanisms of antimicrobial activity.
- Kin selection
The theory that genetic relatedness of a population of cells should lead to more cooperativity and increased fitness of that specific population.
Live microorganisms applied to re-regulate a dysbiotic community or actively exclude an opportunistic pathogen.
Nutrients or other substrates added to alter species composition that favour select microbial growth and exclude opportunistic pathogens.
Dead or otherwise inanimate bacteria or a bacterial product applied to promote skin barrier function.
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Severn, M.M., Horswill, A.R. Staphylococcus epidermidis and its dual lifestyle in skin health and infection. Nat Rev Microbiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00780-3