Aspirin Promotes Growth of Staph aureus in Nose Interview with:
Dr. Fernanda Buzzola

IMPaM, UBA-CONICET What is the background for this study?

Response: Staphylococcus aureus represents a serious problem to public health due to methicillin-resistance and the bacterial persistence over a long period of time in the host. Approximately the 20% of the human population is at risk to acquire an endogenous infection by S. aureus as a consequence of its asymptomatic nasal colonization.

Aspirin, the main source of salicylic acid in the human host, is currently taken by millions of human beings worldwide without medical prescription and widely indicated for defined purposes, including prevention of coronary thrombosis. Salicylic acid is a plant hormone known too for its use as a key ingredient in anti-acne preparations and medications for skin conditions. We also consume mild doses of salicylic acid when we eat fruits and vegetables. Iron is an important trace element for the human body and plays an essential role in blood formation. The metabolism of many bacteria, including S. aureus, also depends on the availability of iron molecules. Salicylic acid forms complexes with iron ions in the blood and so deprives not only us but also the staphylococcal bacteria of this element. S. aureus modifies its metabolism if the iron content is insufficient. The microorganism reacts to the changed – from its perspective, negative – conditions through the intensified formation of a biofilm, a sort of layer of slime formed by the aggregation of individual bacteria. The enhanced biofilm production allows the bacteria to survive for an even longer period under unfavourable living conditions. What are the main findings?

Response: In this study, we show that salicylic acid, which exhibits moderate iron-chelating capacity, strongly promotes S. aureus biofilm formation, irrespective of the methicillin susceptibility status. Furthermore, administration of salicylic acid to mice caused an increase in S. aureus nasal colonization. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The relevance of our findings is underscored by the fact that the outcome of early infection may be different from that expected in an individual infected with S. aureus who takes aspirin or follow a vegetarian diet. We were able to show that the frequent consumption of salicylic acid can promote the colonization of nares by S. aureus, which may contribute to staphylococcal infections that are long lasting and more difficult to treat.

Aspirin intakes provide benefits to the human health. If the host gets infected with S. aureus, however, the effect of salicylic acid may be a double-edged weapon. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research could conduct epidemiologic studies to establish the S. aureus infection rates in populations that consume salicylic acid. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This is a joint study conducted by Fernanda Buzzola’s group from the Institute of Investigations in Medical Microbiology and Parasitology (IMPaM), University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), together with the researcher group of Tom Grunert and Monika Ehling-Schulz from the Institute of Microbiology, Veterinary Medicine University of Vienna (Austria). The research stays were in part funded by the Mobility Programme for Scientific and Technological Cooperation between Argentina and Austria. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Cristian Dotto, Andrea Lombarte Serrat, Natalia Cattelan, María S. Barbagelata, Osvaldo M. Yantorno, Daniel O. Sordelli, Monika Ehling-Schulz, Tom Grunert, Fernanda R. Buzzola. The Active Component of Aspirin, Salicylic Acid, Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Biofilm Formation in a PIA-dependent Manner. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2017; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.00004

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on February 9, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD