Staphylococcus aureus remains a leading cause of human infection. These infections frequently recur when the skin is a primary site of infection, especially in infants and children. In contrast, invasive staphylococcal disease is less commonly associated with reinfection, suggesting that tissue-specific mechanisms govern the development of immunity. Knowledge of how S. aureus manipulates protective immunity has been hampered by a lack of antigen-specific models to interrogate the T cell response. Using a chicken egg OVA–expressing S. aureus strain to analyze OVA-specific T cell responses, we demonstrated that primary skin infection was associated with impaired development of T cell memory. Conversely, invasive infection induced antigen-specific memory and protected against reinfection. This defect in adaptive immunity following skin infection was associated with a loss of DCs, attributable to S. aureus α-toxin (Hla) expression. Gene- and immunization-based approaches to protect against Hla during skin infection restored the T cell response. Within the human population, exposure to α-toxin through skin infection may modulate the establishment of T cell–mediated immunity, adversely affecting long-term protection. These studies prompt consideration that vaccination targeting S. aureus may be most effective if delivered prior to initial contact with the organism.
Brandon Lee, Reuben Olaniyi, Jakub M. Kwiecinski, Juliane Bubeck Wardenburg