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1.  Bacterial Cytolysin during Meningitis Disrupts the Regulation of Glutamate in the Brain, Leading to Synaptic Damage 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(6):e1003380.
Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcal) meningitis is a common bacterial infection of the brain. The cholesterol-dependent cytolysin pneumolysin represents a key factor, determining the neuropathogenic potential of the pneumococci. Here, we demonstrate selective synaptic loss within the superficial layers of the frontal neocortex of post-mortem brain samples from individuals with pneumococcal meningitis. A similar effect was observed in mice with pneumococcal meningitis only when the bacteria expressed the pore-forming cholesterol-dependent cytolysin pneumolysin. Exposure of acute mouse brain slices to only pore-competent pneumolysin at disease-relevant, non-lytic concentrations caused permanent dendritic swelling, dendritic spine elimination and synaptic loss. The NMDA glutamate receptor antagonists MK801 and D-AP5 reduced this pathology. Pneumolysin increased glutamate levels within the mouse brain slices. In mouse astrocytes, pneumolysin initiated the release of glutamate in a calcium-dependent manner. We propose that pneumolysin plays a significant synapto- and dendritotoxic role in pneumococcal meningitis by initiating glutamate release from astrocytes, leading to subsequent glutamate-dependent synaptic damage. We outline for the first time the occurrence of synaptic pathology in pneumococcal meningitis and demonstrate that a bacterial cytolysin can dysregulate the control of glutamate in the brain, inducing excitotoxic damage.
Author Summary
Bacterial meningitis is one of the most devastating brain diseases. Among the bacteria that cause meningitis, Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common. Meningitis predominantly affects children, especially in the Third World, and most of them do not survive. Those that do survive often suffer permanent brain damage and hearing problems. The exact morphological substrates of brain damage in Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis remain largely unknown. In our experiments, we found that the brain cortex of patients with meningitis demonstrated a loss of synapses (the contact points among neurons, responsible for the processes of learning and memory), and we identified the major pneumococcal neurotoxin pneumolysin as a sufficient cause of this loss. The effect was not direct but was mediated by the brain neurotransmitter glutamate, which was released upon toxin binding by one of the non-neuronal cell types of the brain – the astrocytes. Pneumolysin initiated calcium influx in astrocytes and subsequent glutamate release. Glutamate damaged the synapses via NMDA-receptors – a mechanism similar to the damage occurring in brain ischemia. Thus, we show that synaptic loss is present in pneumococcal meningitis, and we identify the toxic bacterial protein pneumolysin as the major factor in this process. These findings alter our understanding of bacterial meningitis and establish new therapeutic strategies for this fatal disease.
PMCID: PMC3681734  PMID: 23785278
2.  Direct Transmembrane Interaction between Actin and the Pore-Competent, Cholesterol-Dependent Cytolysin Pneumolysin 
Journal of Molecular Biology  2013;425(3):636-646.
The eukaryotic actin cytoskeleton is an evolutionarily well-established pathogen target, as a large number of bacterial factors disturb its dynamics to alter the function of the host cells. These pathogenic factors modulate or mimic actin effector proteins or they modify actin directly, leading to an imbalance of the precisely regulated actin turnover. Here, we show that the pore-forming, cholesterol-dependent cytolysin pneumolysin (PLY), a major neurotoxin of Streptococcus pneumoniae, has the capacity to bind actin directly and to enhance actin polymerisation in vitro. In cells, the toxin co-localised with F-actin shortly after exposure, and this direct interaction was verified by Förster resonance energy transfer. PLY was capable of exerting its effect on actin through the lipid bilayer of giant unilamellar vesicles, but only when its pore competence was preserved. The dissociation constant of G-actin binding to PLY in a biochemical environment was 170–190 nM, which is indicative of a high-affinity interaction, comparable to the affinity of other intracellular actin-binding factors. Our results demonstrate the first example of a direct interaction of a pore-forming toxin with cytoskeletal components, suggesting that the cross talk between pore-forming cytolysins and cells is more complex than previously thought.
Graphical Abstract
► The cholesterol-dependent cytolysin PLY interacts with actin with high affinity. ► PLY stabilises actin. ► Pore formation is critically important for the interaction with actin. ► The interaction can occur through the membrane bilayer. ► The pore formation by PLY allows toxin access to intracellular targets.
PMCID: PMC3659287  PMID: 23219469
PLY, pneumolysin; Δ6-PLY, non-pore-forming mutant of pneumolysin; CDC, cholesterol-dependent cytolysin; GUV, giant unilamellar vesicle; FRET, Förster resonance energy transfer; FRAP, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching; APB, actin polymerisation buffer; GFP, green fluorescent protein; PBS, phosphate-buffered saline; RT, room temperature; actin; cholesterol-dependent cytolysin; membrane; pneumolysin; pore-forming toxin
3.  Single Endemic Genotype of Measles Virus Continuously Circulating in China for at Least 16 Years 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e34401.
The incidence of measles in China from 1991 to 2008 was reviewed, and the nucleotide sequences from 1507 measles viruses (MeV) isolated during 1993 to 2008 were phylogenetically analyzed. The results showed that measles epidemics peaked approximately every 3 to 5 years with the range of measles cases detected between 56,850 and 140,048 per year. The Chinese MeV strains represented three genotypes; 1501 H1, 1 H2 and 5 A. Genotype H1 was the predominant genotype throughout China continuously circulating for at least 16 years. Genotype H1 sequences could be divided into two distinct clusters, H1a and H1b. A 4.2% average nucleotide divergence was found between the H1a and H1b clusters, and the nucleotide sequence and predicted amino acid homologies of H1a viruses were 92.3%–100% and 84.7%–100%, H1b were 97.1%–100% and 95.3%–100%, respectively. Viruses from both clusters were distributed throughout China with no apparent geographic restriction and multiple co-circulating lineages were present in many provinces. Cluster H1a and H1b viruses were co-circulating during 1993 to 2005, while no H1b viruses were detected after 2005 and the transmission of that cluster has presumably been interrupted. Analysis of the nucleotide and predicted amino acid changes in the N proteins of H1a and H1b viruses showed no evidence of selective pressure. This study investigated the genotype and cluster distribution of MeV in China over a 16-year period to establish a genetic baseline before MeV elimination in Western Pacific Region (WPR). Continuous and extensive MeV surveillance and the ability to quickly identify imported cases of measles will become more critical as measles elimination goals are achieved in China in the near future. This is the first report that a single endemic genotype of measles virus has been found to be continuously circulating in one country for at least 16 years.
PMCID: PMC3332093  PMID: 22532829
4.  Natural Antibodies against Several Pneumococcal Virulence Proteins in Children during the Pre-Pneumococcal-Vaccine Era: the Generation R Study▿  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(4):1680-1687.
The currently available pneumococcal vaccines do not protect against all serotypes of Streptococcus pneumoniae. A shift toward nonvaccine serotypes causing colonization and invasive disease has occurred, and studies on protein-based vaccines have been undertaken. We assessed the association between specific antibodies against pneumococcal virulence proteins and colonization and respiratory tract infections (RTIs). Additionally, we assessed the extent to which colonization induces a humoral immune response. Nasopharyngeal swabs collected from children at 1.5, 6, 14, and 24 months of age were cultured for pneumococcus. Serum samples were obtained at birth and at 6, 14, and 24 months (n = 57 children providing 177 serum samples). Data were collected prior to the pneumococcal vaccine era. IgG, IgA, and IgM levels against 17 pneumococcal protein vaccine candidates were measured using a bead-based flow cytometry technique (xMAP; Luminex Corporation). Information regarding RTIs was questionnaire derived. Levels of IgG against all proteins were high in cord blood, decreased in the first 6 months and increased again thereafter, in contrast to the course of IgA and IgM levels. Specific antibodies were induced upon colonization. Increased levels of IgG against BVH-3, NanA, and SP1003 at 6 months, NanA, PpmA, PsaA, SlrA, SP0189, and SP1003 at 14 months, and SlrA at 24 months were associated with a decreased number of RTIs in the third year of life but not with colonization. Maternal antipneumococcal antibodies did not protect against pneumococcal colonization and infection. Certain antibodies against pneumococcal virulence proteins, some of which are induced by colonization, are associated with a decreased number of RTIs in children. This should be taken into account in future pneumococcal vaccine studies.
PMCID: PMC3067559  PMID: 21282409
5.  Extracellular Calcium Reduction Strongly Increases the Lytic Capacity of Pneumolysin From Streptococcus Pneumoniae in Brain Tissue 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2011;204(6):930-936.
Background. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes serious diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. Its major pathogenic factor is the cholesterol-dependent cytolysin pneumolysin, which produces lytic pores at high concentrations. At low concentrations, it has other effects, including induction of apoptosis. Many cellular effects of pneumolysin appear to be calcium dependent.
Methods. Live imaging of primary mouse astroglia exposed to sublytic amounts of pneumolysin at various concentrations of extracellular calcium was used to measure changes in cellular permeability (as judged by lactate dehydrogenase release and propidium iodide chromatin staining). Individual pore properties were analyzed by conductance across artificial lipid bilayer. Tissue toxicity was studied in continuously oxygenated acute brain slices.
Results. The reduction of extracellular calcium increased the lytic capacity of the toxin due to increased membrane binding. Reduction of calcium did not influence the conductance properties of individual toxin pores. In acute cortical brain slices, the reduction of extracellular calcium from 2 to 1 mM conferred lytic activity to pathophysiologically relevant nonlytic concentrations of pneumolysin.
Conclusions. Reduction of extracellular calcium strongly enhanced the lytic capacity of pneumolysin due to increased membrane binding. Thus, extracellular calcium concentration should be considered as a factor of primary importance for the course of pneumococcal meningitis.
PMCID: PMC3156923  PMID: 21849290
6.  Changes in Astrocyte Shape Induced by Sublytic Concentrations of the Cholesterol-Dependent Cytolysin Pneumolysin Still Require Pore-Forming Capacity 
Toxins  2011;3(1):43-62.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a common pathogen that causes various infections, such as sepsis and meningitis. A major pathogenic factor of S. pneumoniae is the cholesterol-dependent cytolysin, pneumolysin. It produces cell lysis at high concentrations and apoptosis at lower concentrations. We have shown that sublytic amounts of pneumolysin induce small GTPase-dependent actin cytoskeleton reorganization and microtubule stabilization in human neuroblastoma cells that are manifested by cell retraction and changes in cell shape. In this study, we utilized a live imaging approach to analyze the role of pneumolysin’s pore-forming capacity in the actin-dependent cell shape changes in primary astrocytes. After the initial challenge with the wild-type toxin, a permeabilized cell population was rapidly established within 20-40 minutes. After the initial rapid permeabilization, the size of the permeabilized population remained unchanged and reached a plateau. Thus, we analyzed the non-permeabilized (non-lytic) population, which demonstrated retraction and shape changes that were inhibited by actin depolymerization. Despite the non-lytic nature of pneumolysin treatment, the toxin’s lytic capacity remained critical for the initiation of cell shape changes. The non-lytic pneumolysin mutants W433F-pneumolysin and delta6-pneumolysin, which bind the cell membrane with affinities similar to that of the wild-type toxin, were not able to induce shape changes. The initiation of cell shape changes and cell retraction by the wild-type toxin were independent of calcium and sodium influx and membrane depolarization, which are known to occur following cellular challenge and suggested to result from the ion channel-like properties of the pneumolysin pores. Excluding the major pore-related phenomena as the initiation mechanism of cell shape changes, the existence of a more complex relationship between the pore-forming capacity of pneumolysin and the actin cytoskeleton reorganization is suggested.
PMCID: PMC3210454  PMID: 22069689
pneumolysin; pore formation; cytoskeleton
7.  Nuclear DBF-2-related Kinases Are Essential Regulators of Cytokinesis in Bloodstream Stage Trypanosoma brucei* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2010;285(20):15356-15368.
Nuclear DBF-2-related (NDR) kinases are essential regulators of cell cycle progression, growth, and development in many organisms and are activated by the binding of an Mps One Binder (MOB) protein partner, autophosphorylation, and phosphorylation by an upstream STE20 family kinase. In the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of human African trypanosomiasis, the NDR kinase, PK50, is expressed in proliferative life cycle stages and was shown to complement a yeast NDR kinase mutant cell line. However, the function of PK50 and a second NDR kinase, PK53, in T. brucei has not been determined to date, although trypanosome MOB1 is known to be essential for cytokinesis, suggesting the NDR kinases may also be involved in this process. Here, we show that specific depletion of PK50 or PK53 from bloodstream stage trypanosomes resulted in the rapid accumulation of cells with two nuclei and two kinetoplasts, indicating that cytokinesis was specifically inhibited. This led to a deregulation of the cell cycle and cell death and provides genetic validation of these kinases as potential novel drug targets for human African trypanosomiasis. Recombinant active PK50 and PK53 were produced and biochemically characterized. Both enzymes autophosphorylated, were able to trans-phosphorylate generic kinase substrates in vitro, and were active in the absence of phosphorylation by an upstream kinase. Additionally, both enzymes were active in the absence of MOB1 binding, which was also demonstrated to likely be a feature of the kinases in vivo. Biochemical characterization of recombinant PK50 and PK53 has revealed key kinetic differences between them, and the identification of in vitro peptide substrates in this study paves the way for high throughput inhibitor screening of these kinases.
PMCID: PMC2865264  PMID: 20231285
Phosphorylation/Kinases/Serine-Threonine; Signal Transduction/Protein Kinases/Serine/Threonine; Cell Division; Enzyme Kinetics; Parasitology; RNA Interference (RNAi); Trypanosoma brucei; Cytokinesis; Drug Target; NDR Kinase

Results 1-7 (7)