Macrophages take advantage of the antibacterial properties of copper ions in the killing of bacterial intruders. However, despite the importance of copper for innate immune functions, coordinated efforts to exploit copper ions for therapeutic interventions against bacterial infections are not yet in place. Here we report a novel high-throughput screening platform specifically developed for the discovery and characterization of compounds with copper-dependent antibacterial properties toward methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). We detail how one of the identified compounds, glyoxal-bis(N4- methylthiosemicarbazone) (GTSM), exerts its potent strictly copper-dependent antibacterial properties on MRSA. Our data indicate that the activity of the GTSM-copper complex goes beyond the general antibacterial effects of accumulated copper ions and suggest that, in contrast to prevailing opinion, copper complexes can indeed exhibit species- and target-specific activities. Based on experimental evidence, we propose that copper ions impose structural changes upon binding to the otherwise inactive GTSM ligand and transfer antibacterial properties to the chelate. In turn, GTSM determines target specificity and utilizes a redox-sensitive release mechanism through which copper ions are deployed at or in close proximity to a putative target. According to our proof-of-concept screen, copper activation is not a rare event and even extends to already established drugs. Thus, copper-activated compounds could define a novel class of anti-MRSA agents that amplify copper-dependent innate immune functions of the host. To this end, we provide a blueprint for a high-throughput drug screening campaign which considers the antibacterial properties of copper ions at the host-pathogen interface. Copyright © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.