Atopic dermatitis (AD) is commonly associated with colonization by Staphylococcus aureus in the affected skin. To understand the role of S. aureus in the development of AD, we performed whole-genome sequencing of S. aureus strains isolated from the cheek skin of 268 Japanese infants 1 and 6 months after birth. About 45% of infants were colonized with S. aureus at 1 month regardless of AD outcome. In contrast, skin colonization by S. aureus at 6 months of age increased the risk of developing AD. Acquisition of dysfunctional mutations in the S. aureus Agr quorum-sensing (QS) system was primarily observed in strains from 6-month-old infants who did not develop AD. Expression of a functional Agr system in S. aureus was required for epidermal colonization and the induction of AD-like inflammation in mice. Thus, retention of functional S. aureus agr virulence during infancy is associated with pathogen skin colonization and the development of AD.
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