Current models for global virulence regulation in Staphylococcus aureus are mainly based on studies performed with only a limited number of laboratory strains derived from NCTC8325. In these strains the small regulatory RNA, RNAIII, has a central role in virulence gene regulation. Recently, RNAIII was suggested to control transcription of target genes partly by inhibiting translation of the transcriptional regulator Rot. The present study was undertaken to examine if the model for RNAIII/Rot-dependent virulence regulation is conserved among clinical strains. To this end, we used Rot antibodies to directly assess the amount of Rot protein in 4 well-characterized S. aureus laboratory strains (8325-4, COL, Newman, and UAMS-1) and in 9 strains of clinical origin (encompassing USA300 and Mu50). Additionally, the cellular amount of RNAIII and rot mRNA was determined in all strains. The experiments revealed considerable variation in the Rot and RNAIII levels between strains. However, in the majority of strains the cellular amount of Rot was inversely correlated to the RNAIII level. As we demonstrate that Rot is a stable protein and that the level of rot transcript appeared similar in all strains, our data support that the model for RNAIII-mediated inhibition of rot mRNA translation is conserved among clinical strains. Assessment of Rot-dependent regulation of target genes revealed that Rot is a positive regulator of spa (protein A) transcription in all strains examined. In contrast, Rot repression of sspA (serine protease) and h/b (beta-hemolysin) transcription was not conserved between strains. From this study, we conclude that while the paradigm for understanding RNAIII-dependent regulation of Rot is well-conserved, regulation of single genes is subject to considerable strain variation. We propose that variation in global regulatory networks contribute considerably to the phenotypic variation observed between S. aureus isolates. (C) 2009 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.