Currently, there is no animal model known that mimics natural nasal colonization by Staphylococcus aureus in humans. We investigated whether rhesus macaques are natural nasal carriers of S. aureus. Nasal swabs were taken from 731 macaques. S. aureus isolates were typed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), spa repeat sequencing and multi-locus sequence typing (MLST), and compared with human strains. Furthermore, the isolates were characterized by several PCRs. Thirty-nine percent of 731 macaques were positive for S. aureus. In general, the macaque S. aureus isolates differed from human strains as they formed separate PFGE clusters, 50% of the isolates were untypeable by agr genotyping, 17 new spa types were identified, which all belonged to new sequence types (STs). Furthermore, 66% of macaque isolates were negative for all superantigen genes. To determine S. aureus nasal colonization, three nasal swabs from 48 duo-housed macaques were taken during a 5 month period. In addition, sera were analyzed for immunoglobulin G and A levels directed against 40 staphylococcal proteins using a bead-based flow cytometry technique. Nineteen percent of the animals were negative for S. aureus, and 17% were three times positive. S. aureus strains were easily exchanged between macaques. The antibody response was less pronounced in macaques compared to humans, and nasal carrier status was not associated with differences in serum anti-staphylococcal antibody levels. In conclusion, rhesus macaques are natural hosts of S. aureus, carrying host-specific lineages. Our data indicate that rhesus macaques are useful as an autologous model for studying S. aureus nasal colonization and infection prevention.

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Journal PLoS ONE
van den Berg, S, van Wamel, W.J.B, Snijders, S.V, Ouwerling, B, de Vogel, C.P, Boelens, H.A.M, … van Belkum, A.F. (2011). Rhesus macaques (macaca mulatta) are natural hosts of specific staphylococcus aureus lineages. PLoS ONE, 6(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026170