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A 45 year old man was admitted to hospital with a right sided facial paralysis and three month history of seizures. Computed tomography showed a left temporal mass including both intracerebral and extracerebral structures. Ten years earlier the patient had undergone a neurosurgical intervention in the same anatomical region to treat a subarachnoid haemorrhage. In tissue samples and pus obtained during neurosurgery, Staphylococcus aureus was detected by a 16S rRNA-directed in situ hybridisation technique. Following long term cultivation, small colony variants (SCV) of methicillin resistant S aureus were identified. The patient was treated successfully with a combination of vancomycin and rifampin followed by prolonged treatment with teicoplanin, with no sign of infection on follow up nine months after discharge. This is the first report in which S aureus SCV have been identified as causative organisms in a patient with brain abscess and in which in situ hybridisation has been used to detect S aureus in a clinical specimen containing SCV. Antimicrobial agents such as rifampin which have intracellular activity should be included in treatment of infections caused by S aureus SCV.