Chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) is one of the most common infectious diseases of the middle ear especially affecting children, leading to delay in language development and communication. Although Staphylococcus aureus is the most common pathogen associated with CSOM, its interaction with middle ear epithelial cells is not well known. In the present study, we observed that otopathogenic S. aureus has the ability to invade human middle ear epithelial cells (HMEECs) in a dose and time dependent manner. Scanning electron microscopy demonstrated time dependent increase in the number of S. aureus on the surface of HMEECs. We observed that otopathogenic S. aureus primarily employs a cholesterol dependent pathway to colonize HMEECs. In agreement with these findings, confocal microscopy showed that S. aureus colocalized with lipid rafts in HMEECs. The results of the present study provide new insights into the pathogenesis of S. aureus induced CSOM. The availability of in vitro cell culture model will pave the way to develop novel effective treatment modalities for CSOM beyond antibiotic therapy.
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