Bacterial proteases secreted into an infected host may exhibit a wide range of pathogenic potentials. Staphylococci, in particular Staphylococcus aureus, are known to produce several extracellular proteases, including serine, cysteine and metalloenzymes. Their insensitivity to most human plasma protease inhibitors and, even more, the ability to inactivate some of these make the proteases potentially harmful. Indeed, several recent studies have shown that staphylococcal proteases are able to interact with the host defense mechanisms and tissue components as well as to modify other pathogenderived virulence factors. A tight, cell densitydependent control of proteolytic activity expression, similar to that of the welldefined virulence determinants, further suggests the role of staphylococcal proteases in the infection process. Consistently, alterations in coordinated expression of extracellular proteins markedly diminished the virulence. However, despite these data and the fact that a strain deficient in sspABC operon coding for serine (sspA) and cysteine (sspB) proteases was highly attenuated in virulence in the animal infection model, it was impossible to unambiguously demonstrate the importance of any particular protease as a virulence factor. Therefore, it can be assumed that the orchestrated expression and interaction of a variety of extracellular and cell surface proteins rather than any particular one is responsible for the staphylococcal pathogenicity and that the proteases apparently play an important role in this complex process. Such redundant mechanism is very well suited for promoting the survival of staphylococci under diverse environmental conditions encountered in the infected host.
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