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1.  Anthrax Lethal Toxin-Induced Gene Expression Changes in Mouse Lung 
Toxins  2011;3(9):1111-1130.
A major virulence factor of Bacillus anthracis is the anthrax Lethal Toxin (LeTx), a bipartite toxin composed of Protective Antigen and Lethal Factor. Systemic administration of LeTx to laboratory animals leads to death associated with vascular leakage and pulmonary edema. In this study, we investigated whether systemic exposure of mice to LeTx would induce gene expression changes associated with vascular/capillary leakage in lung tissue. We observed enhanced susceptibility of A/J mice to death by systemic LeTx administration compared to the C57BL/6 strain. LeTx-induced groups of both up- and down-regulated genes were observed in mouse lungs 6 h after systemic administration of wild type toxin compared to lungs of mice exposed to an inactive mutant form of the toxin. Lungs of the less susceptible C57BL/6 strain showed 80% fewer differentially expressed genes compared to lungs of the more sensitive A/J strain. Expression of genes known to regulate vascular permeability was modulated by LeTx in the lungs of the more susceptible A/J strain. Unexpectedly, the largest set of genes with altered expression was immune specific, characterized by the up-regulation of lymphoid genes and the down-regulation of myeloid genes. Transcripts encoding neutrophil chemoattractants, modulators of tumor regulation and angiogenesis were also differentially expressed in both mouse strains. These studies provide new directions for the investigation of vascular leakage and pulmonary edema induced by anthrax LeTx.
PMCID: PMC3202878  PMID: 22039574
Lethal Toxin; lung; gene expression
2.  Anthrax Lethal Toxin Disrupts the Endothelial Permeability Barrier Through Blocking p38 Signaling 
Journal of cellular physiology  2012;227(4):1438-1445.
Exposure to anthrax causes life-threatening disease through the action of the toxin produced by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria. Lethal factor (LF), an anthrax toxin component which causes severe vascular leak and edema, is a protease which specifically degrades MAP kinase kinases (MKK). We have recently shown that p38 MAP kinase activation leading to HSP27 phosphorylation augments the endothelial permeability barrier. We now show that treatment of rat pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx), which is composed of LF and the protective antigen, increases endothelial barrier permeability and gap formation between endothelial cells through disrupting p38 signaling. LeTx treatment increases MKK3b degradation and in turn decreases p38 activity at baseline as well as after activation of p38 signaling. Consequently, LeTx treatment decreases activation of the p38 substrate kinase, MK2, and the phosphorylation of the latter’s substrate, HSP27. LeTx treatment disrupts other signaling pathways leading to suppression of Erk-mediated signaling, but these effects do not correlate with LeTx-induced barrier compromise. Overexpressing phosphomimicking (pm)HSP27, which protects the endothelial permeability barrier against LeTx, blocks LeTx inactivation of p38 and MK2, but it does not block MKK3b degradation or Erk inactivation. Our results suggest that LeTx might cause vascular leak through inactivating p38-MK2-HSP27 signaling and that activating HSP27 phosphorylation specifically restores p38 signaling and blocks anthrax LeTx toxicity. The fact that barrier integrity could be restored by pmHSP27 overexpression without affecting degradation of MKK3b, or inactivation of Erk, suggests a specific and central role for p38-MK2-HSP27 in endothelial barrier permeability regulation.
PMCID: PMC4254851  PMID: 21618534
3.  HDAC8-mediated epigenetic reprogramming plays a key role in resistance to anthrax lethal toxin-induced pyroptosis in macrophages* 
Macrophages pre-exposed to a sub-lethal dose of anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) are refractory to subsequent high cytolytic doses of LeTx, termed toxin-induced resistance (TIR). A small population of TIR cells (2–4%) retains TIR characteristics for up to 5 to 6 weeks. Through studying these long-term TIR cells, we found that a high level of histone deacetylase (HDAC)8 expression was crucial for TIR. Knocking down or inhibition of HDAC8 by siRNAs or the HDAC8-specific inhibitor PCI-34051, respectively, induced expression of the mitochondrial death genes Bcl2 Adenovirus E1B 19 kDa-interacting protein 3 (BNIP3), BNIP3-like (BNIP3L) and Metastatic Lymph Node (MLN)64, and re-sensitized TIR cells to LeTx. Among multiple histone acetylations, histone H3 lysine 27 acetylation (H3K27Ac) was most significantly decreased in TIR cells in an HDAC8-dependent manner, and the association of H3K27Ac with the genomic regions of BNIP3 and MLN64, where HDAC8 was recruited to, was diminished in TIR cells. Furthermore, over-expression of HDAC8 or knocking down the histone acetyltransferase CREB-binding protein (CBP)/p300, known to target H3K27, rendered wild-type cells resistant to LeTx. As in RAW264.7 cells, primary bone marrow-derived macrophages exposed to a sub-lethal dose of LeTx were resistance to LeTx in an HDAC8-dependent manner. Collectively, this study demonstrates that epigenetic reprogramming mediated by HDAC8 plays a key role in determining the susceptibility of LeTx-induced pyroptosis in macrophages.
PMCID: PMC4108443  PMID: 24973453 CAMSID: cams4441
anthrax lethal toxin; pyroptosis; histone H3; histone deacetylases
4.  The Role of NF-κB and H3K27me3 Demethylase, Jmjd3, on the Anthrax Lethal Toxin Tolerance of RAW 264.7 Cells 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9913.
In Bacillus anthracis, lethal toxin (LeTx) is a critical virulence factor that causes immune suppression and toxic shock in the infected host. NF-κB is a key mediator of the inflammatory response and is crucial for the plasticity of first level immune cells such as macrophages, monocytes and neutrophils. In macrophages, this inflammatory response, mediated by NF-κB, can regulate host defense against invading pathogens. A Jumonji C family histone 3 lysine-27 (H3K27) demethylase, Jmjd3, plays a crucial role in macrophage plasticity and inflammation. Here we report that NF-κB and Jmjd3 can modulate the LeTx intoxication resistance of RAW 264.7 cells.
Principal Findings
This study showed that a 2 h exposure of macrophages to LeTx caused substantial cell death with a survival rate of around 40%. The expression of the Jmjd3 gene was induced 8-fold in intoxication-resistant cells generated by treatment with lipopolysaccharides of RAW 264.7 cells. These intoxication-resistant cell lines (PLx intox and PLxL intox) were maintained for 8 passages and had a survival rate of around 100% on secondary exposure to LeTx and lipopolysaccharides. Analysis of NF-κB gene expression showed that the expression of p100, p50 and p65 was induced around 20, 7 and 4 fold, respectively, in both of the intoxication-resistant cell lines following a 2 h treatment with PLxL (0.1+0.1+1 µg/ml). In contrast, these NF-κB genes were not induced following treatment with PLx treatment at the same concentrations.
Although LeTx influences macrophage physiology and causes defects of some key signaling pathways such as GSK3β which contributes to cytotoxicity, these results indicate that modulation of NF-κB by p50, p100 and Jmjd3 could be vital for the recovery of murine macrophages from exposure to the anthrax lethal toxin.
PMCID: PMC2848010  PMID: 20360974
5.  In Vitro and In Vivo Characterization of Anthrax Anti-Protective Antigen and Anti-Lethal Factor Monoclonal Antibodies after Passive Transfer in a Mouse Lethal Toxin Challenge Model To Define Correlates of Immunity▿  
Infection and Immunity  2007;75(11):5443-5452.
Passive transfer of antibody may be useful for preexposure prophylaxis against biological agents used as weapons of terror, such as Bacillus anthracis. Studies were performed to evaluate the ability of anthrax antiprotective antigen (anti-PA) and antilethal factor (anti-LF) neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to protect against an anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) challenge in a mouse model and to identify correlates of immunity to LeTx challenge. Despite having similar affinities for their respective antigens, anti-PA (3F11) and anti-LF (9A11), passive transfer of up to 1.5 mg of anti-PA 3F11 mAb did not provide significant protection when transferred to mice 24 h before LeTx challenge, while passive transfer of as low as 0.375 mg of anti-LF 9A11 did provide significant protection. Serum collected 24 h after passive transfer had LeTx-neutralizing activity when tested using a standard LeTx neutralization assay, but neutralization titers measured using this assay did not correlate with protection against LeTx challenge. However, measurement of LeTx-neutralizing serum responses with an LeTx neutralization assay in vitro employing the addition of LeTx to J774A.1 cells 15 min before the addition of the serum did result in neutralization titers that correlated with protection against LeTx challenge. Our results demonstrate that only the LeTx neutralization titers measured utilizing the addition of LeTx to J774A.1 cells 15 min before the addition of sample correlated with protection in vivo. Thus, this LeTx neutralization assay may be a more biologically relevant neutralization assay to predict the in vivo protective capacity of LeTx-neutralizing antibodies.
PMCID: PMC2168269  PMID: 17709410
6.  Anthrax Lethal and Edema Toxins Produce Different Patterns of Cardiovascular and Renal Dysfunction and Synergistically Decrease Survival in Canines 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2010;202(12):1885-1896.
Background. High mortality in the 2001 US and recent European anthrax outbreaks suggests that better understanding of the effects of the toxins produced by this bacterium is needed to improve treatment.
Methods and results. Here, 24-h edema (ETx) and lethal (LeTx) toxin infusions were investigated for 96 h in sedated canines receiving mechanical ventilation. The initial study compared similarly lethal doses of ETx (n=8) or LeTx (n=15) alone. ETx was 24 times less lethal than LeTx, and the median time to death in nonsurvivors (n=6 and n=9, respectively) was shorter with ETx (42 vs 67 h; P=.04). Compared with controls (n=9), both toxins decreased arterial and central venous pressures and systemic vascular resistance and increased heart rate, cardiac index, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) level, creatinine (Cr) concentration, BUN:Cr ratio, and hepatic transaminase levels (P ⩽ .05 for toxin effect or time interaction). However, ETx stimulated early diuresis, reduced serum sodium levels, and had more pronounced vasodilatory effects, compared with LeTx, as reflected by greater or earlier central venous pressures, systemic vascular resistance, and changes in the BUN:Cr ratio (P ⩽ .01). LeTx progressively decreased the left ventricular ejection fraction (P ⩽ .002). In a subsequent study, a lethal dose of LeTx with an equimolar nonlethal ETx dose (n=8) increased mortality, compared with LeTx alone (n=8;P=.05).
Conclusion. Shock with ETx or LeTx may require differing supportive therapies, whereas toxin antagonists should likely target both toxins.
PMCID: PMC3061475  PMID: 21067373
7.  Anthrax Lethal and Edema Toxins Produce Different Patterns of Cardiovascular and Renal Dysfunction and Synergistically Decrease Survival in Canines 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2010;202(12):1885-1896.
High mortality in the 2001 US and recent European anthrax outbreaks suggests that better understanding of the effects of this bacteria’s toxins is needed to improve treatment.
Methods and results
Here, 24h edema (ETx) and lethal (LeTx) toxin infusions were investigated for 96h in sedated and mechanically ventilated canines. Initial study compared similarly lethal doses of ETx (n=8) or LeTx (n=15) alone. ETx was 24 times less lethal than LeTx, while median time to death in non-survivors (n=6 and 9 respectively) was shorter with ETx (42 vs. 67h, p=0.04). Compared to controls (n=9), both toxins decreased arterial and central venous pressures (CVP) and systemic vascular resistance (SVRI) and increased heart rate (HR), cardiac index, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine (Cr), BUN:Cr ratio, and hepatic transaminases (p≤0.05, toxin effect or time interaction). However, ETx stimulated early diuresis, reduced serum sodium and had more pronounced vasodilatory effects than LeTx as reflected by greater or earlier CVP, SVRI, and BUN:Cr changes (p≤0.01). LeTx progressively decreased left ventricular ejection fraction (p≤0.002). In subsequent study, lethal dose LeTx with an equimolar nonlethal ETx dose (n=8) increased mortality versus LeTx alone (n=8) (p=0.05).
Shock with ETx or LeTx may require differing supportive therapies while toxin antagonists should likely target both toxins.
PMCID: PMC3061475  PMID: 21067373
Anthrax; edema and lethal toxins; shock; organ injury
8.  Transcriptional and apoptotic responses of THP-1 cells to challenge with toxigenic, and non-toxigenic Bacillus anthracis 
BMC Immunology  2008;9:67.
Bacillus anthracis secretes several virulence factors targeting different host organs and cell types during inhalational anthrax infection. The bacterial expression of a key virulence factor, lethal toxin (LeTx) is closely tied to another factor, edema toxin (EdTx). Both are transcribed on the same virulence plasmid (pXO1) and both have been the subject of much individual study. Their combined effect during virulent anthrax likely modulates both the global transcriptional and the phenotypic response of macrophages and phagocytes. In fact, responses brought about by the toxins may be different than each of their individual effects.
Here we report the transcriptional and apoptotic responses of the macrophage-like phagocytic cell line THP-1 exposed to B. anthracis Sterne (pXO1+) spores, and B. anthracis Δ Sterne (pXO1-) spores. These cells are resistant to LeTx-induced cytolysis, a phenotype seen in macrophages from several mouse strains which are sensitive to toxigenic anthrax infection. Our results indicate that the pXO1-containing strain induces higher pro-inflammatory transcriptional responses during the first 4 hours of interaction with bacterium, evident in the upregulation of several genes relevant to Nf-κB, phosphatases, prostaglandins, and TNF-α, along with decreases in expression levels of genes for mitochondrial components. Both bacterial strains induce apoptosis, but in the toxigenic strain-challenged cells, apoptosis is delayed.
This delay in apoptosis occurs despite the much higher level of TNF-α secretion induced by the toxigenic-strain challenge. Interestingly, CFLAR, an important apoptotic inhibitor which blocks apoptosis induced by large amounts of extracellular TNF-α, is upregulated significantly during toxigenic-strain infection, but not at all during non-toxigenic-strain infection, indicating that it may play a role in blocking or delaying TNF-α-mediated apoptosis. The suppression of apoptosis by the toxigenic anthrax strain is consistent with the notion that apoptosis itself may represent a protective host cell response.
PMCID: PMC2613145  PMID: 19014542
9.  Anthrax Lethal Factor Activates K+ Channels To Induce IL-1β Secretion in Macrophages 
Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) is a virulence factor of Bacilillus anthracis that is a bivalent toxin, containing lethal factor (LF) and protective Ag proteins, which causes cytotoxicity and altered macrophage function. LeTx exposure results in early K+ efflux from macrophages associated with caspase-1 activation and increased IL-1β release. The mechanism of this toxin-induced K+ efflux is unknown. The goals of the current study were to determine whether LeTx-induced K+ efflux from macrophages is mediated by toxin effects on specific K+ channels and whether altered K+-channel activity is involved in LeTx-induced IL-1β release. Exposure of macrophages to LeTx induced a significant increase in the activities of two types of K+ channels that have been identified in mouse macrophages: Ba2+-sensitive inwardly rectifying K+ (Kir) channels and 4-aminopyridine–sensitive outwardly rectifying voltage-gated K+ (Kv) channels. LeTx enhancement of both Kir and Kv required the proteolytic activity of LF, because exposure of macrophages to a mutant LF-protein (LFE687C) combined with protective Ag protein had no effect on the currents. Furthermore, blocking Kir and Kv channels significantly decreased LeTx-induced release of IL-1β. In addition, retroviral transduction of macrophages with wild-type Kir enhanced LeTx-induced release of IL-1β, whereas transduction of dominant-negative Kir blocked LeTx-induced release of IL-1β. Activation of caspase-1 was not required for LeTx-induced activation of either of the K+ channels. These data indicate that a major mechanism through which LeTx stimulates macrophages to release IL-1β involves an LF-protease effect that enhances Kir and Kv channel function during toxin stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3583536  PMID: 21421849
10.  Perturbation of Mouse Retinal Vascular Morphogenesis by Anthrax Lethal Toxin 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6956.
Lethal factor, the enzymatic moiety of anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) is a protease that inactivates mitogen activated protein kinase kinases (MEK or MKK). In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrate LeTx targets endothelial cells. However, the effects of LeTx on endothelial cells are incompletely characterized. To gain insight into this process we used a developmental model of vascularization in the murine retina. We hypothesized that application of LeTx would disrupt normal retinal vascularization, specifically during the angiogenic phase of vascular development. By immunoblotting and immunofluorescence microscopy we observed that MAPK activation occurs in a spatially and temporally regulated manner during retinal vascular development. Intravitreal administration of LeTx caused an early delay (4 d post injection) in retinal vascular development that was marked by reduced penetration of vessels into distal regions of the retina as well as failure of sprouting vessels to form the deep and intermediate plexuses within the inner retina. In contrast, later stages (8 d post injection) were characterized by the formation of abnormal vascular tufts that co-stained with phosphorylated MAPK in the outer retinal region. We also observed a significant increase in the levels of secreted VEGF in the vitreous 4 d and 8 d after LeTx injection. In contrast, the levels of over 50 cytokines other cytokines, including bFGF, EGF, MCP-1, and MMP-9, remained unchanged. Finally, co-injection of VEGF-neutralizing antibodies significantly decreased LeTx-induced neovascular growth. Our studies not only reveal that MAPK signaling plays a key role in retinal angiogenesis but also that perturbation of MAPK signaling by LeTx can profoundly alter vascular morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2737623  PMID: 19750016
11.  Cytotoxicity of Anthrax Lethal Toxin to Human Acute Myeloid Leukemia Cells Is Nonapoptotic and Dependent on Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase 1/2 Activity1 
Translational Oncology  2013;6(1):25-32.
In this study, we attempt to target the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells using a recombinant anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx). LeTx consists of protective antigen (PrAg) and lethal factor (LF). PrAg binds cells, is cleaved by furin, oligomerizes, binds three to four molecules of LF, and undergoes endocytosis, releasing LF into the cytosol. LF cleaves MAPK kinases, inhibiting the MAPK pathway. We tested potency of LeTx on a panel of 11 human AML cell lines. Seven cell lines showed cytotoxic responses to LeTx. Cytotoxicity of LeTx was mimicked by the specific mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase 1/2 (MEK1/2) inhibitor U0126, indicating that LeTx-induced cell death is mediated through the MEK1/2-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) branch of the MAPK pathway. The four LeTx-resistant cell lines were sensitive to the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor LY294002. Co-treatment of AML cells with both LeTx and LY294002 did not lead to increased sensitivity, showing a lack of additive/synergistic effects when both pathways are inhibited. Flow cytometry analysis of MAPK pathway activation revealed the presence of phospho-ERK1/2 only in LeTx-sensitive cells. Staining for Annexin V/propidium iodide and active caspases showed an increase in double-positive cells and the absence of caspase activation following treatment, indicating that LeTx-induced cell death is caspase-independent and nonapoptotic. We have shown that a majority of AML cell lines are sensitive to the LF-mediated inhibition of the MAPK pathway. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that LeTx-induced cytotoxicity in AML cells is nonapoptotic and dependent on phospho-ERK1/2 levels.
PMCID: PMC3573651  PMID: 23418614
12.  Sequential B-Cell Epitopes of Bacillus anthracis Lethal Factor Bind Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Antibodies▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;77(1):162-169.
The bipartite anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) consisting of protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF) is a major virulence factor contributing to death from systemic Bacillus anthracis infection. The current vaccine elicits antibodies directed primarily to PA; however, in experimental settings serologic responses to LF can neutralize LeTx and contribute to protection against infection. The goals of the present study were to identify sequential B-cell epitopes of LF and to determine the capacity of these determinants to bind neutralizing antibodies. Sera of recombinant LF-immunized A/J mice exhibited high titers of immunoglobulin G anti-LF reactivity that neutralized LeTx in vitro 78 days after the final booster immunization and protected the mice from in vivo challenge with 3 50% lethal doses of LeTx. These sera bound multiple discontinuous epitopes, and there were major clusters of reactivity on native LF. Strikingly, all three neutralizing, LF-specific monoclonal antibodies tested bound specific peptide sequences that coincided with sequential epitopes identified in polyclonal antisera from recombinant LF-immunized mice. This study confirms that LF induces high-titer protective antibodies in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, the binding of short LF peptides by LF-specific neutralizing monoclonal antibodies suggests that generation of protective antibodies by peptide vaccination may be feasible for this antigen. This study paves the way for a more effective anthrax vaccine by identifying discontinuous peptide epitopes of LF.
PMCID: PMC2612257  PMID: 18981257
13.  Anthrax Toxins Induce Shock in Rats by Depressed Cardiac Ventricular Function 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(5):e466.
Anthrax infections are frequently associated with severe and often irreversible hypotensive shock. The isolated toxic proteins of Bacillus anthracis produce a non-cytokine-mediated hypotension in rats by unknown mechanisms. These observations suggest the anthrax toxins have direct cardiovascular effects. Here, we characterize these effects. As a first step, we administered systemically anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) and edema toxin (EdTx) to cohorts of three to twelve rats at different doses and determined the time of onset, degree of hypotension and mortality. We measured serum concentrations of the protective antigen (PA) toxin component at various time points after infusion. Peak serum levels of PA were in the µg/mL range with half-lives of 10–20 minutes. With doses that produced hypotension with delayed lethality, we then gave bolus intravenous infusions of toxins to groups of four to six instrumented rats and continuously monitored blood pressure by telemetry. Finally, the same doses used in the telemetry experiments were given to additional groups of four rats, and echocardiography was performed pretreatment and one, two, three and twenty-four hours post-treatment. LeTx and EdTx each produced hypotension. We observed a doubling of the velocity of propagation and 20% increases in left ventricular diastolic and systolic areas in LeTx-treated rats, but not in EdTx-treated rats. EdTx-but not LeTx-treated rats showed a significant increase in heart rate. These results indicate that LeTx reduced left ventricular systolic function and EdTx reduced preload. Uptake of toxins occurs readily into tissues with biological effects occurring within minutes to hours of serum toxin concentrations in the µg/mL range. LeTx and EdTx yield an irreversible shock with subsequent death. These findings should provide a basis for the rational design of drug interventions to reduce the dismal prognosis of systemic anthrax infections.
PMCID: PMC1867860  PMID: 17520025
14.  Anthrax Lethal Toxin Promotes Dephosphorylation of TTP and Formation of Processing bodies 
Cellular microbiology  2009;12(4):557-568.
Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) is composed of protective antigen (PA) and lethal factor (LF) – PA is the receptor-binding moiety and LF is a protease that cleaves mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases (MAPKKs). LeTx subverts the immune response to B. anthracis in several ways, such as downregulating interleukin-8 (IL-8) by increasing the rate of IL-8 mRNA degradation. Many transcripts are regulated through cis-acting elements that bind proteins that either impede or promote degradation. Some of these RNA binding proteins are regulated by MAPKs and previous work has demonstrated that interfering with MAPK signaling decreases the half-life of IL-8 mRNA. Here, we have localized a segment within the IL-8 3′ untranslated region responsible for LeTx-induced transcript destabilization and show that this is caused by inhibition of the p38, ERK, and JNK pathways. TTP, an RNA binding protein involved in IL-8 mRNA decay, became hypophosphorylated in LeTx-treated cells and knock-down of TTP prevented LeTx from destabilizing the IL-8 transcript. Cells that were treated with LeTx exhibited increased localization of TTP to Processing-bodies, which are structures that accumulate transcripts targeted for degradation. We furthermore observed that LeTx promoted the formation of Processing-bodies, revealing a link between the toxin and a major mRNA decay pathway.
PMCID: PMC2859114  PMID: 19995385
anthrax; lethal toxin; TTP; IL-8; P-body
15.  Matrix metalloproteinase-activated anthrax lethal toxin inhibits endothelial invasion and neovasculature formation during in vitro morphogenesis 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2009;7(4):452-461.
Solid tumor growth is dependent on angiogenesis, the formation of neovasculature from existing vessels. Endothelial activation of the ERK1/2, JNK, and p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways is central to this process, and thus presents an attractive target for the development of angiogenesis inhibitors. Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) has potent catalytic MAPK inhibition activity. Preclinical studies showed LeTx induced potent tumor growth inhibition via the inhibition of xenograft vascularization. However, LeTx receptors and the essential furin-like activating proteases are expressed in many normal tissues, potentially limiting the specificity of LeTx as an anti-tumor agent. To circumvent nonspecific LeTx activation and simultaneously enhance tumor vascular targeting, a substrate preferably cleaved by the gelatinases class of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) was substituted for the furin LeTx activation site. In vivo efficacy studies demonstrated that this MMP-activated LeTx inhibited tumor xenografts growth via the reduced migration of endothelial cells into the tumor parenchyma. Here we have expanded on these initial findings by demonstrating that this MMP-activated LeTx reduces endothelial proangiogenic MMP expression, thus causing a diminished proteolytic capacity for extracellular matrix remodeling and endothelial differentiation into capillary networks. Additionally, our data suggests that inhibition of the JNK and p38, but not ERK1/2 pathways is significant in the anti-angiogenic activity of the MMP-activated LeTx. Collectively, these results support the clinical development of the MMP-activated LeTx for the treatment of solid tumors.
PMCID: PMC2676781  PMID: 19372576
anthrax lethal toxin; lethal factor; matrix metalloproteinase; protective antigen; tumor angiogenesis; vascular endothelial growth factor
16.  B. anthracis lethal toxin represses MMTV promoter activity through transcription factors 
Journal of molecular biology  2009;389(3):595-605.
We have recently shown that the anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) selectively represses nuclear hormone receptors. In the current studies, we found that LeTx repressed activation of the MMTV promoter related to over-expression of the transcription factors, HNF3, Oct1 and c-Jun. LeTx transcriptional repression was associated with a decrease in protein levels of these transcription factors in a lethal factor (LF) protease activity dependent manner. Early administration of LeTx antagonists partially or completely abolished the repressive effects of LeTx. In contrast to the rapid cleavage of MAPKKs by LeTx, the degradation of these transcription factors occurred at a relatively late stage after LeTx treatment. In addition, LeTx repressed phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) -induced MMTV promoter activity and PMA-induction of endogenous c-Jun protein. Collectively, these findings suggest that transcription factors are intracellular targets of LeTx and expand our understanding of the molecular action of LeTx at a later stage of low-dose exposure.
PMCID: PMC2754296  PMID: 19389405
anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx); MMTV promoter; transcription factors; over-expression; repression
17.  Hemodynamic Effects of Anthrax Toxins in the Rabbit Model and the Cardiac Pathology Induced by Lethal Toxin 
Toxins  2011;3(6):721-736.
Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) and edema toxin (EdTx) have been shown to alter hemodynamics in the rodent model, while LeTx primarily is reported to induce extensive tissue pathology. However, the rodent model has limitations when used for comparison to higher organisms such as humans. The rabbit model, on the other hand, has gained recognition as a useful model for studying anthrax infection and its pathophysiological effects. In this study, we assessed the hemodynamic effects of lethal toxin (LeTx) and edema toxin (EdTx) in the rabbit model using physiologically relevant amounts of the toxins. Moreover, we further examine the pathological effects of LeTx on cardiac tissue. We intravenously injected Dutch-belted rabbits with either low-dose and high-dose recombinant LeTx or a single dose of EdTx. The animals’ heart rate and mean arterial pressure were continuously monitored via telemetry until either 48 or 72 h post-challenge. Additional animals challenged with LeTx were used for cardiac troponin I (cTnI) quantitation, cardiac histopathology, and echocardiography. LeTx depressed heart rate at the lower dose and mean arterial pressure (MAP) at the higher dose. EdTx, on the other hand, temporarily intensified heart rate while lowering MAP. Both doses of LeTx caused cardiac pathology with the higher dose having a more profound effect. Lastly, left-ventricular dilation due to LeTx was not apparent at the given time-points. Our study demonstrates the hemodynamic effects of anthrax toxins, as well as the pathological effects of LeTx on the heart in the rabbit model, and it provides further evidence for the toxins’ direct impact on the heart.
PMCID: PMC3202836  PMID: 22069736
anthrax; lethal toxin; rabbit model; cardiac
18.  Enhancement of Anthrax Lethal Toxin Cytotoxicity: a Subset of Monoclonal Antibodies against Protective Antigen Increases Lethal Toxin-Mediated Killing of Murine Macrophages  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(6):3276-3283.
We investigated the ability of using monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against anthrax protective antigen (PA), an anthrax exotoxin component, to modulate exotoxin cytotoxic activity on target macrophage cell lines. Anthrax PA plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of Bacillus anthracis infection. PA is the cell-binding component of the two anthrax exotoxins: lethal toxin (LeTx) and edema toxin. Several MAbs that bind the PA component of LeTx are known to neutralize LeTx-mediated killing of target macrophages. Here we describe for the first time an overlooked population of anti-PA MAbs that, in contrast, function to increase the potency of LeTx against murine macrophage cell lines. The results support a possible mechanism of enhancement: binding of MAb to PA on the macrophage cell surface stabilizes the PA by interaction of MAb with macrophage Fcγ receptors. This results in an increase in the amount of PA bound to the cell surface, which in turn leads to an enhancement in cell killing, most likely due to increased internalization of LF. Blocking of PA-receptor binding eliminates enhancement by MAb, demonstrating the importance of this step for the observed enhancement. The additional significance of these results is that, at least in mice, immunization with PA appears to elicit a poly-clonal response that has a significant prevalence of MAbs that enhance LeTx-mediated killing in macrophages.
PMCID: PMC415670  PMID: 15155630
19.  Investigation of New Dominant-Negative Inhibitors of Anthrax Protective Antigen Mutants for Use in Therapy and Vaccination ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(10):4679-4687.
The lethal toxin (LeTx) of Bacillus anthracis plays a key role in the pathogenesis of anthrax. The protective antigen (PA) is a primary part of the anthrax toxin and forms LeTx by combination with lethal factor (LF). Phenylalanine-427 (F427) is crucial for PA function. This study was designed to discover potential novel therapeutic agents and vaccines for anthrax. This was done by screening PA mutants that were mutated at the F427 residue for a dominant-negative inhibitory (DNI) phenotype which was nontoxic but inhibited the toxicity of the wild-type LeTx. For this, PA residue F427 was first mutated to each of the other 19 naturally occurring amino acids. The cytotoxicity and DNI phenotypes of the mutated PA proteins were tested in the presence of 1 μg/ml LF in RAW264.7 cells and were shown to be dependent on the individual amino acid replacements. A total of 16 nontoxic mutants with various levels of DNI activity were identified in vitro. Among them, F427D and F427N mutants had the highest DNI activities in RAW264.7 cells. Both mutants inhibited LeTx intoxication in mice in a dose-dependent way. Furthermore, they induced a Th2-predominant immune response and protected mice against a challenge with five 50% lethal doses of LeTx. The protection was correlated mainly with a low level of interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and with high levels of PA-specific immunoglobulin G1, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. Thus, PA DNI mutants, such as F427D and F427N mutants, may serve in the development of novel therapeutic agents and vaccines to fight B. anthracis infections.
PMCID: PMC2747968  PMID: 19620345
20.  A Novel Chimeric Anti-PA Neutralizing Antibody for Postexposure Prophylaxis and Treatment of Anthrax 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:11776.
Anthrax is a highly lethal infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, and the associated shock is closely related to the lethal toxin (LeTx) produced by the bacterium. The central role played by the 63 kDa protective antigen (PA63) region of LeTx in the pathophysiology of anthrax makes it an excellent therapeutic target. In the present study, a human/murine chimeric IgG mAb, hmPA6, was developed by inserting murine antibody variable regions into human constant regions using antibody engineering technology. hmPA6 expressed in 293F cells could neutralize LeTx both in vitro and in vivo. At a dose of 0.3 mg/kg, it could protect all tested rats from a lethal dose of LeTx. Even administration of 0.6 mg/kg hmPA6 48 h before LeTx challenge protected all tested rats. The results indicate that hmPA6 is a potential candidate for clinical application in anthrax treatment.
PMCID: PMC4488766  PMID: 26134518
21.  Anthrax lethal toxin suppresses high glucose induced VEGF over secretion through a post-translational mechanism 
To prove anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) blocks the mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) activation by degrading the MAPK/ERK kinases (MEKs) to suppress vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion.
Human adult retinal pigmented epithelium (ARPE) cells were cultured and treated with normal glucose, high glucose or high glucose with LeTx for additional 24, 48 or 72h for viable cell count. Total RNA from the ARPE was isolated for reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The conditioned medium of ARPE cells treated in different group for 48h was filtered and diluted to detect the concentration of VEGF by enzyme-linked immunosorbant assays. Evaluate the role of MEK/MAPK pathway in the secretion of VEGF by immunoblotting.
In this study, we proved high glucose induced activation of the MAPK extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) and p38 in the ARPE cell line was blocked by anthrax LeTx. LeTx also inhibited high glucose induced ARPE cell over proliferation.
LeTx suppressed high glucose induced VEGF over secretion in the ARPE cells, mainly through a post-translational mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4458645  PMID: 26085990
angiogenesis; diabetic retinopathy; retinal pigmented epithelium; vascular endothelial growth factor; anthrax lethal toxin
22.  Inhibition of tumor angiogenesis by the matrix metalloproteinase-activated anthrax lethal toxin in an orthotopic model of anaplastic thyroid carcinoma 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2010;9(1):190-201.
Patients with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) typically succumb to their disease months after diagnosis despite aggressive therapy. A large percentage of ATCs have been shown to harbor the V600E B-Raf point mutation, leading to the constitutive activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. ATC invasion, metastasis, and angiogenesis are in part dependent on the gelatinase class of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). The explicit targeting of these two tumor markers may provide a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of ATC. The MMP-activated Anthrax Lethal Toxin (LeTx), a novel recombinant protein toxin combination, demonstrates potent MAPK pathway inhibition in gelatinase-expressing V600E B-Raf tumor cells in vitro. However, preliminary in vivo studies showed that the MMP-activated LeTx also exhibited dramatic anti-tumor activity against xenografts that did not show significant anti-proliferative responses to the LeTx in vitro. Here we show that the MMP-activated LeTx inhibits orthotopic ATC xenograft progression in both toxin-sensitive and resistant ATC cells via reduced endothelial cell recruitment and subsequent tumor vascularization. This in turn translates to an improved long-term survival that is comparable to that produced by the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib. Our results also indicate that therapy with the MMP-activated LeTx is extremely effective against advanced tumors with well-established vascular networks. Taken together, these results suggest that the MMP-activated LeTx-mediated endothelial cell targeting is the primary in vivo anti-tumor mechanism of this novel toxin. Therefore, the MMP-activated LeTx could be used not only in the clinical management of V600E B-Raf ATC, but potentially in any solid tumor.
PMCID: PMC2806504  PMID: 20053778
Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma; anthrax lethal toxin; lethal factor; matrix metalloproteinase; protective antigen; tumor angiogenesis; vascular endothelial growth factor
23.  Stochastic humoral immunity to Bacillus anthracis Protective Antigen: Identification of anti-peptide IgG correlating with seroconversion to Lethal Toxin neutralization 
Vaccine  2013;31(14):1856-1863.
A substantial fraction of individuals vaccinated against anthrax have low to immeasurable levels of serum Lethal Toxin (LeTx)-neutralizing activity. The only known correlate of protection against Bacillus anthracis in the currently licensed vaccine is magnitude of the IgG response to Protective Antigen (PA); however, some individuals producing high serum levels of anti-PA IgG fail to neutralize LeTx in vitro. This suggests that non-protective humoral responses to PA may be immunodominant in some individuals. Therefore, to better understand why anthrax vaccination elicits heterogeneous levels of protection, this study was designed to elucidate the relationship between anti-PA fine specificity and LeTx neutralization in response to PA vaccination. Inbred mice immunized with recombinant PA produced high levels of anti-PA IgG and neutralized LeTx in vitro and in vivo. Decapeptide binding studies using pooled sera reproducibly identified the same 9 epitopes. Unexpectedly, sera from individual mice revealed substantial heterogeneity in the anti-PA IgG and LeTx neutralization responses, despite relative genetic homogeneity, shared environment and exposure to the same immunogen. This heterogeneity permitted the identification of specificities that correlate with LeTx-neutralizing activity. IgG binding to six decapeptides comprising two PA epitopes, located in domains I and IV, significantly correlate with seroconversion to LeTx neutralization. These results indicate that stochastic variation in humoral immunity is likely to be a major contributor to the general problem of heterogeneity in vaccine responsiveness and suggest that vaccine effectiveness could be improved by approaches that focus the humoral response toward protective epitopes in a greater fraction of vaccinees.
PMCID: PMC3614092  PMID: 23415781
Bacillus anthracis; Protective antigen; Vaccine; B cell epitope; Mice
24.  Activation of the NLRP1b inflammasome independently of ASC-mediated caspase-1 autoproteolysis and speck formation 
Nature Communications  2014;5:3209.
Despite its clinical importance in infection and autoimmunity, the activation mechanisms of the NLRP1b inflammasome remain enigmatic. Here we show that deletion of the inflammasome adaptor ASC in BALB/c mice and in C57BL/6 macrophages expressing a functional NLRP1b prevents anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx)-induced caspase-1 autoproteolysis and speck formation. However, ASC−/− macrophages undergo normal LeTx-induced pyroptosis and secrete significant amounts of interleukin (IL)-1β. In contrast, ASC is critical for caspase-1 autoproteolysis and IL-1β secretion by the NLRC4, NLRP3 and AIM2 inflammasomes. Notably, LeTx-induced inflammasome activation is associated with caspase-1 ubiquitination, which is unaffected in ASC-deficient cells. In vivo, ASC-deficient mice challenged with LeTx produce significant levels of IL-1β, IL-18 and HMGB1 in circulation, although caspase-1 autoproteolysis is abolished. As a result, ASC−/− mice are sensitive to rapid LeTx-induced lethality. Together, these results demonstrate that ASC-driven caspase-1 autoprocessing and speck formation are dispensable for the activation of caspase-1 and the NLRP1b inflammasome.
The NLRP1b inflammasome activation may lead to pyroptosis and secretion of the inflammatory cytokines IL-1ß and IL-18 but the mechanisms behind these processes are not fully understood. Here, the authors show that they can occur independently of the inflammasome adaptor ASC and without caspase-1 autoprocessing.
PMCID: PMC3926011  PMID: 24492532
25.  Cellular Adaptation to Anthrax Lethal Toxin-Induced Mitochondrial Cholesterol Enrichment, Hyperpolarization, and Reactive Oxygen Species Generation through Downregulating MLN64 in Macrophages 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(23):4846-4860.
Cellular adaptation to different stresses related to survival and function has been demonstrated in several cell types. Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) induces rapid cell death, termed “pyroptosis,” by activating NLRP1b/caspase-1 in murine macrophages. We and others (S. D. Ha et al., J. Biol. Chem. 282:26275-26283, 2007; I. I. Salles et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100:12426 –12431, 2003) have shown that RAW264.7 cells preexposed to sublethal doses of LeTx become resistant to subsequent high cytolytic doses of LeTx, termed toxin-induced resistance (TIR). To date, the cellular mechanisms of pyroptosis and TIR are largely unknown. We found that LeTx caused NLRP1b/caspase-1-dependent mitochondrial dysfunction, including hyperpolarization and generation of reactive oxygen species, which was distinct from that induced by stimuli such as NLRP3-activating ATP. In TIR cells, these mitochondrial events were not detected, although caspase-1 was activated, in response to LeTx. We identified that downregulation of the late endosomal cholesterol-transferring protein MLN64 in TIR cells was involved in TIR. The downregulation of MLN64 in TIR cells was at least in part due to DNA methyltransferase 1-mediated DNA methylation. In wild-type RAW264.7 cells and primary bone marrow-derived macrophages, LeTx caused NLRP1b/caspase-1-dependent mitochondrial translocation of MLN64, resulting in cholesterol enrichment, membrane hyperpolarization, reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, and depletion of free glutathione (GSH). This study demonstrates for the first time that MLN64 plays a key role in LeTx/caspase-1-induced mitochondrial dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC3497600  PMID: 23028046

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