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1.  Secretion of IL-16 through TNFR1 and calpain-caspase signaling contributes to MRSA pneumonia 
Mucosal immunology  2014;7(6):1366-1374.
Staphylococcus aureus is a major cause of severe pneumonia. Multiple mechanisms of proinflammatory signaling are activated to recruit immune cells into the airway in response to S. aureus. We found that IL-16, a T cell cytokine that binds CD4, is potently activated by S. aureus, specifically by protein A (SpA), and to a much greater extent than by Gram negative pathogens or LPS. IL-16 production involved multiple signals including ligation of TNFR family members or EGFR, both receptors for SpA and generation of Ca2+ fluxes to activate calpains and caspase-3. Although human airway epithelial cells, vascular endothelial cells, THP-1 and Jurkat T cells released IL-16 in response to S. aureus in vitro, in a murine model of pneumonia, CD4+ cells were the major source of IL-16 suggesting the involvement of an autocrine signaling pathway. The production of IL-16 contributed to lung damage as neutralization of IL-16 enhanced S. aureus clearance and resulted in diminished lung pathology in S. aureus pneumonia. Our results suggest that the ability of S.aureus to activate TNFR1 and Ca2+/calpain signaling contribute to T cell activation and excessive inflammation in the setting of acute pneumonia.
PMCID: PMC4199935  PMID: 24736233
2.  Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Adaptation to Human Keratinocytes 
mBio  2015;6(2):e00289-15.
Skin is the most common site of Staphylococcus aureus infection. While most of these infections are self-limited, recurrent infections are common. Keratinocytes and recruited immune cells participate in skin defense against infection. We postulated that S. aureus is able to adapt to the milieu within human keratinocytes to avoid keratinocyte-mediated clearance. From a collection of S. aureus isolated from chronically infected patients with atopic dermatitis, we noted 22% had an agr mutant-like phenotype. Using several models of human skin infection, we demonstrate that toxin-deficient, agr mutants of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) USA300 are able to persist within keratinocytes by stimulating autophagy and evading caspase-1 and inflammasome activation. MRSA infection induced keratinocyte autophagy, as evidenced by galectin-8 and LC3 accumulation. Autophagy promoted the degradation of inflammasome components and facilitated staphylococcal survival. The recovery of more than 58% agr or RNAIII mutants (P < 0.0001) of an inoculum of wild-type (WT) MRSA from within wortmannin-treated keratinocytes compared to control keratinocytes reflected the survival advantage for mutants no longer expressing agr-dependent toxins. Our results illustrate the dynamic interplay between S. aureus and keratinocytes that can result in the selection of mutants that have adapted specifically to evade keratinocyte-mediated clearance mechanisms.
Human skin is a major site of staphylococcal infection, and keratinocytes actively participate in eradication of these pathogens. We demonstrate that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is ingested by keratinocytes and activates caspase-1-mediated clearance through pyroptosis. Toxin-deficient MRSA mutants are selected within keratinocytes that fail to induce caspase-1 activity and keratinocyte-mediated clearance. These intracellular staphylococci induce autophagy that enhances their intracellular survival by diminishing inflammasome components. These findings suggest that S. aureus mutants, by exploiting autophagy, can persist within human keratinocytes.
PMCID: PMC4453558  PMID: 25900653
3.  Toxin-Induced Necroptosis Is a Major Mechanism of Staphylococcus aureus Lung Damage 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(4):e1004820.
Staphylococcus aureus USA300 strains cause a highly inflammatory necrotizing pneumonia. The virulence of this strain has been attributed to its expression of multiple toxins that have diverse targets including ADAM10, NLRP3 and CD11b. We demonstrate that induction of necroptosis through RIP1/RIP3/MLKL signaling is a major consequence of S. aureus toxin production. Cytotoxicity could be prevented by inhibiting either RIP1 or MLKL signaling and S. aureus mutants lacking agr, hla or Hla pore formation, lukAB or psms were deficient in inducing cell death in human and murine immune cells. Toxin-associated pore formation was essential, as cell death was blocked by exogenous K+ or dextran. MLKL inhibition also blocked caspase-1 and IL-1β production, suggesting a link to the inflammasome. Rip3-/- mice exhibited significantly improved staphylococcal clearance and retained an alveolar macrophage population with CD200R and CD206 markers in the setting of acute infection, suggesting increased susceptibility of these leukocytes to necroptosis. The importance of this anti-inflammatory signaling was indicated by the correlation between improved outcome and significantly decreased expression of KC, IL-6, TNF, IL-1α and IL-1β in infected mice. These findings indicate that toxin-induced necroptosis is a major cause of lung pathology in S. aureus pneumonia and suggest the possibility of targeting components of this signaling pathway as a therapeutic strategy.
Author Summary
Staphylococcus aureus (SA) cause a highly inflammatory pneumonia associated with substantial morbidity and mortality. Much of this lung destruction is attributed to toxins that target specific receptors on human and murine cells. We demonstrate that the α-hemolysin (Hla) and other agr-regulated toxins activate RIP1/RIP3/MLKL-mediated necroptosis and IL-1β expression, through a mechanism that involves MLKL pore-formation and inflammasome activation. Cell death can be inhibited by osmoprotectants and K+ repletion. Necroptosis results in alveolar macrophage depletion and loss of anti-inflammatory signaling. Rip3-/- mice maintain significantly greater numbers of alveolar macrophages with anti-inflammatory phenotypes, CD206+ and CD200R+; decreased proinflammatory cytokine production; and improved SA clearance. Necroptosis represents a common mechanism of pulmonary damage activated by multiple SA toxins.
PMCID: PMC4399879  PMID: 25880560
4.  Rational Manipulation of mRNA Folding Free Energy Allows Rheostat Control of Pneumolysin Production by Streptococcus pneumoniae 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119823.
The contribution of specific factors to bacterial virulence is generally investigated through creation of genetic “knockouts” that are then compared to wild-type strains or complemented mutants. This paradigm is useful to understand the effect of presence vs. absence of a specific gene product but cannot account for concentration-dependent effects, such as may occur with some bacterial toxins. In order to assess threshold and dose-response effects of virulence factors, robust systems for tunable expression are required. Recent evidence suggests that the folding free energy (ΔG) of the 5’ end of mRNA transcripts can have a significant effect on translation efficiency and overall protein abundance. Here we demonstrate that rational alteration of 5’ mRNA folding free energy by introduction of synonymous mutations allows for predictable changes in pneumolysin (PLY) expression by Streptococcus pneumoniae without the need for chemical inducers or heterologous promoters. We created a panel of isogenic S. pneumoniae strains, differing only in synonymous (silent) mutations at the 5’ end of the PLY mRNA that are predicted to alter ΔG. Such manipulation allows rheostat-like control of PLY production and alters the cytotoxicity of whole S. pneumoniae on primary and immortalized human cells. These studies provide proof-of-principle for further investigation of mRNA ΔG manipulation as a tool in studies of bacterial pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4370707  PMID: 25798590
5.  Genome Sequence of Bacterial Interference Strain Staphylococcus aureus 502A 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(2):e00284-14.
Staphylococcus aureus 502A was a strain used in bacterial interference programs during the 1960s and early 1970s. Infants were deliberately colonized with 502A with the goal of preventing colonization with more invasive strains. We present the completed genome sequence of this organism.
PMCID: PMC3983310  PMID: 24723721
6.  Induction of Type I Interferon Signaling Determines the Relative Pathogenicity of Staphylococcus aureus Strains 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(2):e1003951.
The tremendous success of S. aureus as a human pathogen has been explained primarily by its array of virulence factors that enable the organism to evade host immunity. Perhaps equally important, but less well understood, is the importance of the intensity of the host response in determining the extent of pathology induced by S. aureus infection, particularly in the pathogenesis of pneumonia. We compared the pathogenesis of infection caused by two phylogenetically and epidemiologically distinct strains of S. aureus whose behavior in humans has been well characterized. Induction of the type I IFN cascade by strain 502A, due to a NOD2-IRF5 pathway, was the major factor in causing severe pneumonia and death in a murine model of pneumonia and was associated with autolysis and release of peptidogylcan. In contrast to USA300, 502A was readily eliminated from epithelial surfaces in vitro. Nonetheless, 502A caused significantly increased tissue damage due to the organisms that were able to invade systemically and trigger type I IFN responses, and this was ameliorated in Ifnar-/- mice. The success of USA300 to cause invasive infection appears to depend upon its resistance to eradication from epithelial surfaces, but not production of specific toxins. Our studies illustrate the important and highly variable role of type I IFN signaling within a species and suggest that targeted immunomodulation of specific innate immune signaling cascades may be useful to prevent the excessive morbidity associated with S. aureus pneumonia.
Author Summary
The virulence of the S. aureus, and especially that associated with the epidemic MRSA USA300 strains, has been primarily explained by its expression of a specific set of virulence factors. We postulated that that intensity of the host innate immune response activated by specific staphylococcal strains is also critical in determining the severity of infection. By comparing two divergent S. aureus strains, USA300, associated with invasive disease, and 502A, primarily associated with surface colonization, we found that virulence was directly associated with the ability of a strain to stimulate the type I interferon pathway. The morbidity and mortality associated with USA300 could be attributed to its resistance to killing at mucosal surfaces; once past the epithelial barrier it caused less pathology than 502A. In contrast, although 502A was more readily killed by epithelial antimicrobial factors, once into the lung, it caused significantly more pathology in a mouse model of acute pneumonia. These observations suggest that modulating the host response to infection may be useful in preventing some of the disease associated with S. aureus pneumonia.
PMCID: PMC3930619  PMID: 24586160
7.  Crystal structures of respiratory pathogen neuraminidases 
Biochemical and biophysical research communications  2009;380(3):10.1016/j.bbrc.2009.01.108.
Currently there is pressing need to develop novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of infections by the human respiratory pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Streptococcus pneumoniae. The neuraminidases of these pathogens are important for host colonization in animal models of infection and are attractive targets for drug discovery. To aid in the development of inhibitors against these neuraminidases, we have determined the crystal structures of the P. aeruginosa enzyme NanPs and S. pneumoniae enzyme NanA at 1.6 and 1.7 Å resolution, respectively. In situ proteolysis with trypsin was essential for the crystallization of our recombinant NanA. The active site regions of the two enzymes are strikingly different. NanA contains a deep pocket that is similar to that in canonical neuraminidases, while the NanPs active site is much more open. The comparative studies suggest that NanPs may not be a classical neuraminidase, and may have distinct natural substrates and physiological functions. This work represents an important step in the development of drugs to prevent respiratory tract colonization by these two pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3836282  PMID: 19284989
Streptococcus pneumoniae; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; neuraminidase; crystal structure; pneumonia
8.  Staphylococcus aureus induces type I interferon signaling in dendritic cells via TLR9 
The importance of type I IFN signaling in the innate immune response to viral and intracellular pathogens is well established, with an increasing literature implicating extracellular bacterial pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus in this signaling pathway. Airway epithelial cells and especially dendritic cells (DC) contribute to the production of type I IFNs in the lung. We were interested in establishing how S. aureus activates the type I IFN cascade in DC. In vitro studies confirmed the rapid uptake of S. aureus by DC followed promptly by STAT1 phosphorylation and expression of IFN-β. Signaling occurred using heat-killed organism and in the absence of PVL and α-toxin. Consistent with the participation of endosomal and not cytosolic receptors, signaling was predominantly mediated by MyD88, TLR9 and IRF1 and blocked by cytochalasin D, dynasore and chloroquine. To determine the role of TLR9 signaling in the pathogenesis of S. aureus pneumonia we infected WT and Tlr9−/− mice with MRSA USA300. Tlr9−/− mice had significantly improved clearance of S. aureus from the airways and lung tissue. Ifnar−/− mice also had improved clearance. This enhanced clearance in Tlr9−/− mice was not due to differences in the numbers of recruited neutrophils into the airways, but instead correlated with decreased induction of TNF. Thus, we identified TLR9 as the critical receptor mediating the induction of type I IFN signaling in dendritic cells in response to S. aureus, illustrating an additional mechanism through which S. aureus exploits innate immune signaling to facilitate infection.
PMCID: PMC3466375  PMID: 22962685
9.  Staphylococcus aureus Activation of Caspase 1/Calpain Signaling Mediates Invasion Through Human Keratinocytes 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;205(10):1571-1579.
The USA300 strains of Staphylococcus aureus are the major cause of skin and soft tissue infection in the United States. Invasive USA300 infection has been attributed to several virulence factors, including protein A and the α-hemolysin (Hla), which cause pathology by activating host signaling cascades. Here we show that S. aureus exploits the proinflammatory bias of human keratinocytes to activate pyroptosis, a caspase 1–dependent form of inflammatory cell death, which was required for staphylococci to penetrate across a keratinocyte barrier. Keratinocyte necrosis was mediated by calpains, Ca2+-dependent intracellular proteases whose endogenous inhibitor, calpastatin, is targeted by Hla-induced caspase 1. Neither Panton-Valentine leukocidin nor protein A expression was essential, but inhibition of either calpain or caspase 1 activity was sufficient to prevent staphylococcal invasion across the keratinocytes. These studies suggest that pharmacological interruption of specific keratinocyte signaling cascades as well as targeting the Hla might prevent invasive skin infection by staphylococci.
PMCID: PMC3415815  PMID: 22457275
10.  Epithelial Uptake of Flagella Initiates Proinflammatory Signaling 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e59932.
The airway epithelium serves multiple roles in the defense of the lung. Not only does it act as a physical barrier, it acts as a distal extension of the innate immune system. We investigated the role of the airway epithelium in the interaction with flagella, an important virulence factor of the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a cause of ventilator associated pneumonia and significant morbidity and mortality in patients with cystic fibrosis. Flagella were required for transmigration across polarized airway epithelial cells and this was a direct consequence of motility, and not a signaling effect. Purified flagella did not alter the barrier properties of the epithelium but were observed to be rapidly endocytosed inside epithelial cells. Neither flagella nor intact P. aeruginosa stimulated epithelial inflammasome signaling. Flagella-dependent signaling required dynamin-based uptake as well as TLR5 and primarily led to the induction of proinflammatory (Tnf, Il6) as well as neutrophil (Cxcl1, Cxcl2, Ccl3) and macrophage (Ccl20) chemokines. Although flagella are important in invasion across the epithelial barrier their shedding in the airway lumen results in epithelial uptake and signaling that has a major role in the initial recruitment of immune cells in the lung.
PMCID: PMC3603936  PMID: 23527288
11.  Immunopathogenesis of Staphylococcus aureus pulmonary infection 
Seminars in immunopathology  2011;34(2):281-297.
Staphylococcus aureus is a common human pathogen highly evolved as both a component of the commensal flora and as a major cause of invasive infection. Severe respiratory infection due to staphylococci has been increasing due to the prevalence of more virulent USA300 CA-MRSA strains in the general population. The ability of S. aureus to adapt to the milieu of the respiratory tract has facilitated its emergence as a respiratory pathogen. Its metabolic versatility, the ability to scavenge iron, coordinate gene expression, and the horizontal acquisition of useful genetic elements have all contributed to its success as a component of the respiratory flora, in hospitalized patients, as a complication of influenza and in normal hosts. The expression of surface adhesins facilitates its persistence in the airways. In addition, the highly sophisticated interactions of the multiple S. aureus virulence factors, particularly the α-hemolysin and protein A, with diverse immune effectors in the lung such as ADAM10, TNFR1, EGFR, immunoglobulin, and complement all contribute to the pathogenesis of staphylococcal pneumonia.
PMCID: PMC3577067  PMID: 22037948
Airway; Lung; Epithelial; Staphylococcus aureus; Virulence; Signaling
12.  Induction of Type I Interferon Signaling by Pseudomonas aeruginosa Is Diminished in Cystic Fibrosis Epithelial Cells 
The clinical manifestations of infection in cystic fibrosis (CF) are restricted to the lung, and involve a limited number of pathogens, suggesting a specific defect in mucosal immunity. We postulated that cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CTFR) mutations could affect the activation of type I interferon signaling in airway epithelial cells, which function in immune surveillance and initiate the recruitment and activation of immune cells. In response to infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Ifnb was induced more than 100-fold in the murine lung, and the phosphorylation of STAT1 was similarly induced by the expected TLR4/TRIF/MD2/TBK1 cascade. The stimulation by P. aeruginosa of CF (IB3) cells and control (C-38) human cell lines similarly resulted in the induction of IFN-β, but to a significantly lower extent in CF airway cells. The potential consequences of diminished type I IFN signaling were demonstrated in a murine model of P. aeruginosa pneumonia, pretreatment with polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid significantly enhanced bacterial clearance and correlated with increased numbers of mature CD11c+/CD86+ dendritic cells (DCs) in the lung. Using culture supernatants from CF or control cell lines stimulated with P. aeruginosa, we similarly demonstrated the diminished activation of human monocyte–derived DCs by incubation with CF compared with normal epithelial cell culture supernatants, which was dependent on IFN-β. These observations suggest that dysfunction of the CFTR in airway epithelial cells may contribute to impaired immune surveillance in the CF airway and resultant colonization by P. aeruginosa.
PMCID: PMC3262660  PMID: 21778412
Type I interferon; cystic fibrosis; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; TLR4
13.  The type I IFN response to extracellular bacteria in the airway epithelium 
Trends in immunology  2011;32(12):582-588.
The airway epithelium possesses many mechanisms to prevent bacterial infection. Not only does it provide a physical barrier but it also acts as an extension of the immune system through the expression of innate immune receptors and corresponding effectors. One outcome of innate signaling by the epithelium is the production of type I interferons (IFN) , which have traditionally been associated with activation via viral and intracellular organisms. We discuss how three extracellular bacterial pathogens of the airway activate this intracellular signaling cascade through both surface components as well as via secretion systems and the differing effects of type I IFN signaling on host defense of the respiratory tract.
PMCID: PMC3221817  PMID: 21996313
14.  Innate Immunity in the Respiratory Epithelium 
The airway epithelium represents the first point of contact for inhaled foreign organisms. The protective arsenal of the airway epithelium is provided in the form of physical barriers and a vast array of receptors and antimicrobial compounds that constitute the innate immune system. Many of the known innate immune receptors, including the Toll-like receptors and nucleotide oligomerization domain–like receptors, are expressed by the airway epithelium, which leads to the production of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines that affect microorganisms directly and recruit immune cells, such as neutrophils and T cells, to the site of infection. The airway epithelium also produces a number of resident antimicrobial proteins, such as lysozyme, lactoferrin, and mucins, as well as a swathe of cationic proteins. Dysregulation of the airway epithelial innate immune system is associated with a number of medical conditions that can result in compromised immunity and chronic inflammation of the lung. This review focuses on the innate immune capabilities of the airway epithelium and its role in protecting the lung from infection as well as the outcomes when its function is compromised.
PMCID: PMC3175551  PMID: 21330463
innate immunity; respiratory; airway; signaling
15.  Participation of CD11c+ Leukocytes in Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Clearance from the Lung ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(5):1898-1904.
Staphylococcus aureus causes especially severe pulmonary infection, associated with high morbidity and mortality. In addition to the effects of specific virulence factors, it appears that the intensity of the host proinflammatory response, particularly in the initial stages of infection, contributes substantially to pulmonary damage. We tested the hypothesis that the CD11c+ leukocytes are important in the host response to pulmonary infection with methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) USA300. Clodronate-induced depletion of the alveolar macrophage population resulted in increased numbers of dendritic cells (DCs) and CD4+ cells in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and was associated with significantly increased mortality by 18 h following S. aureus inoculation but had no effect on bacterial load or polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) numbers in the lung. These clodronate-treated mice also had increased expression of interleukin-17A/F (IL-17A/F) and CXCL10 but not of gamma interferon (IFN-γ) or tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Depletion of the dendritic cell population in mice expressing a CD11c-enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP)-diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR) transgene was associated with an increased bacterial load in the lung but not increased mortality. Both DCs and airway epithelial cells produced CXCL9, -10, and -11 in response to S. aureus. Pretreatment of mice with an anti-CXCR3 antibody prior to inoculation with MRSA substantially reduced CD4+ cells and decreased pulmonary inflammation at 18 h postinfection compared to pretreatment with an IgG control. The results of these experiments suggest that CD11c+ cells, the induction of CXCR3 ligand expression, and subsequent CD4+ cell recruitment have an important role in the pathogenesis of severe MRSA pulmonary infection.
PMCID: PMC3088152  PMID: 21402768
16.  Pseudomonas aeruginosa AES-1 Exhibits Increased Virulence Gene Expression during Chronic Infection of Cystic Fibrosis Lung 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24526.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in people with cystic fibrosis (CF), adapts for survival in the CF lung through both mutation and gene expression changes. Frequent clonal strains such as the Australian Epidemic Strain-1 (AES-1), have increased ability to establish infection in the CF lung and to superimpose and replace infrequent clonal strains. Little is known about the factors underpinning these properties. Analysis has been hampered by lack of expression array templates containing CF-strain specific genes. We sequenced the genome of an acute infection AES-1 isolate from a CF infant (AES-1R) and constructed a non-redundant micro-array (PANarray) comprising AES-1R and seven other sequenced P. aeruginosa genomes. The unclosed AES-1R genome comprised 6.254Mbp and contained 6957 putative genes, including 338 not found in the other seven genomes. The PANarray contained 12,543 gene probe spots; comprising 12,147 P. aeruginosa gene probes, 326 quality-control probes and 70 probes for non-P. aeruginosa genes, including phage and plant genes. We grew AES-1R and its isogenic pair AES-1M, taken from the same patient 10.5 years later and not eradicated in the intervening period, in our validated artificial sputum medium (ASMDM) and used the PANarray to compare gene expression of both in duplicate. 675 genes were differentially expressed between the isogenic pairs, including upregulation of alginate, biofilm, persistence genes and virulence-related genes such as dihydroorotase, uridylate kinase and cardiolipin synthase, in AES-1M. Non-PAO1 genes upregulated in AES-1M included pathogenesis-related (PAGI-5) genes present in strains PACS2 and PA7, and numerous phage genes. Elucidation of these genes' roles could lead to targeted treatment strategies for chronically infected CF patients.
PMCID: PMC3174184  PMID: 21935417
17.  Streptococcus pneumoniae DNA Initiates Type I Interferon Signaling in the Respiratory Tract 
mBio  2011;2(3):e00016-11.
The mucosal epithelium is the initial target for respiratory pathogens of all types. While type I interferon (IFN) signaling is traditionally associated with antiviral immunity, we demonstrate that the extracellular bacterial pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae activates the type I IFN cascade in airway epithelial and dendritic cells. This response is dependent upon the pore-forming toxin pneumolysin. Pneumococcal DNA activates IFN-β expression through a DAI/STING/TBK1/IRF3 cascade. Tlr4−/−, Myd88−/−, Trif−/−, and Nod2−/− mutant mice had no impairment of type I IFN signaling. Induction of type I IFN signaling contributes to the eradication of pneumococcal carriage, as IFN-α/β receptor null mice had significantly increased nasal colonization with S. pneumoniae compared with that of wild-type mice. These studies suggest that the type I IFN cascade is a central component of the mucosal response to airway bacterial pathogens and is responsive to bacterial pathogen-associated molecular patterns that are capable of accessing intracellular receptors.
The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae is a leading cause of bacterial pneumonia, leading to upwards of one million deaths a year worldwide and significant economic burden. Although it is known that antibody is critical for efficient phagocytosis, it is not known how this pathogen is sensed by the mucosal epithelium. We demonstrate that this extracellular pathogen activates mucosal signaling typically activated by viral pathogens via the pneumolysin pore to activate intracellular receptors and the type I interferon (IFN) cascade. Mice lacking the receptor to type I IFNs have a reduced ability to clear S. pneumoniae, suggesting that the type I IFN cascade is central to the mucosal clearance of this important pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3101776  PMID: 21586648
18.  The Subtilisin-Like Protease AprV2 Is Required for Virulence and Uses a Novel Disulphide-Tethered Exosite to Bind Substrates 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001210.
Many bacterial pathogens produce extracellular proteases that degrade the extracellular matrix of the host and therefore are involved in disease pathogenesis. Dichelobacter nodosus is the causative agent of ovine footrot, a highly contagious disease that is characterized by the separation of the hoof from the underlying tissue. D. nodosus secretes three subtilisin-like proteases whose analysis forms the basis of diagnostic tests that differentiate between virulent and benign strains and have been postulated to play a role in virulence. We have constructed protease mutants of D. nodosus; their analysis in a sheep virulence model revealed that one of these enzymes, AprV2, was required for virulence. These studies challenge the previous hypothesis that the elastase activity of AprV2 is important for disease progression, since aprV2 mutants were virulent when complemented with aprB2, which encodes a variant that has impaired elastase activity. We have determined the crystal structures of both AprV2 and AprB2 and characterized the biological activity of these enzymes. These data reveal that an unusual extended disulphide-tethered loop functions as an exosite, mediating effective enzyme-substrate interactions. The disulphide bond and Tyr92, which was located at the exposed end of the loop, were functionally important. Bioinformatic analyses suggested that other pathogenic bacteria may have proteases that utilize a similar mechanism. In conclusion, we have used an integrated multidisciplinary combination of bacterial genetics, whole animal virulence trials in the original host, biochemical studies, and comprehensive analysis of crystal structures to provide the first definitive evidence that the extracellular secreted proteases produced by D. nodosus are required for virulence and to elucidate the molecular mechanism by which these proteases bind to their natural substrates. We postulate that this exosite mechanism may be used by proteases produced by other bacterial pathogens of both humans and animals.
Author Summary
Extracellular proteases are produced by many bacterial pathogens and are commonly involved in the degradation of the host extracellular matrix, facilitating invasion and colonization. One such pathogen is Dichelobacter nodosus, the causative agent of ovine footrot, a disease of major economic significance to the international sheep industry. D. nodosus secretes a number of serine proteases, which are thought to cause the tissue damage associated with virulent footrot. Our study showed that a D. nodosus mutant lacking one of the three secreted proteases, AprV2, failed to cause virulent disease in sheep. We used x-ray crystallography to solve the structure of AprV2 and the closely related protease AprB2. Our structures revealed an unusual extended disulphide-tethered loop that is located next to, but does not form part of, the primary substrate binding site. Through targeted mutagenesis studies we were able to show that this loop functions as an exosite, mediating effective enzyme-substrate interactions. Bioinformatic analyses suggest that subtilases from other pathogenic bacteria may contain this loop and may therefore utilize a similar mechanism. Our multidisciplinary research approach has provided a comprehensive understanding of the functional role of extracellular proteases in the pathogenesis of ovine footrot.
PMCID: PMC2991261  PMID: 21124876
19.  The NanA Neuraminidase of Streptococcus pneumoniae Is Involved in Biofilm Formation▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(9):3722-3730.
Streptococcus pneumoniae remains a major cause of bacteremia, pneumonia, and otitis media despite vaccines and effective antibiotics. The neuraminidase of S. pneumoniae, which catalyzes the release of terminal sialic acid residues from glycoconjugates, is involved in host colonization in animal models of infection and may provide a novel target for preventing pneumococcal infection. We demonstrate that the S. pneumoniae neuraminidase (NanA) cleaves sialic acid and show that it is involved in biofilm formation, suggesting an additional role in pathogenesis, and that it shares this property with the neuraminidase of Pseudomonas aeruginosa even though we show that the two enzymes are phylogenetically divergent. Using an in vitro model of biofilm formation incorporating human airway epithelial cells, we demonstrate that small-molecule inhibitors of NanA block biofilm formation and may provide a novel target for preventative therapy. This work highlights the role played by the neuraminidase in pathogenesis and represents an important step in drug development for prevention of colonization of the respiratory tract by this important pathogen.
PMCID: PMC2738052  PMID: 19564377
20.  The Type III Toxins of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Disrupt Epithelial Barrier Function▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;190(8):2814-2821.
The type III secreted toxins of Pseudomonas aeruginosa are important virulence factors associated with clinically important infection. However, their effects on bacterial invasion across mucosal surfaces have not been well characterized. One of the most commonly expressed toxins, ExoS, has two domains that are predicted to affect cytoskeletal integrity, including a GTPase-activating protein (GAP) domain, which targets Rho, a major regulator of actin polymerization; and an ADP-ribosylating domain that affects the ERM proteins, which link the plasma membrane to the actin cytoskeleton. The activities of these toxins, and ExoS specifically, on the permeability properties of polarized airway epithelial cells with intact tight junctions were examined. Strains expressing type III toxins altered the distribution of the tight junction proteins ZO-1 and occludin and were able to transmigrate across polarized airway epithelial monolayers, in contrast to ΔSTY mutants. These effects on epithelial permeability were associated with the ADP-ribosylating domain of ExoS, as bacteria expressing plasmids lacking expression of the ExoS GAP activity nonetheless increased the permeation of fluorescent dextrans, as well as bacteria, across polarized airway epithelial cells. Treatment of epithelial cells with cytochalasin D depolymerized actin filaments and increased permeation across the monolayers but did not eliminate the differential effects of wild-type and toxin-negative mutants on the epithelial cells, suggesting that additional epithelial targets are involved. Confocal imaging studies demonstrated that ZO-1, occludin, and ezrin undergo substantial redistribution in human airway cells intoxicated by ExoS, -T, and -Y. These studies support the hypothesis that type III toxins enhance P. aeruginosa's invasive capabilities by interacting with multiple eukaryotic cytoskeletal components.
PMCID: PMC2293221  PMID: 18165298
21.  NetB, a New Toxin That Is Associated with Avian Necrotic Enteritis Caused by Clostridium perfringens 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(2):e26.
For over 30 years a phospholipase C enzyme called alpha-toxin was thought to be the key virulence factor in necrotic enteritis caused by Clostridium perfringens. However, using a gene knockout mutant we have recently shown that alpha-toxin is not essential for pathogenesis. We have now discovered a key virulence determinant. A novel toxin (NetB) was identified in a C. perfringens strain isolated from a chicken suffering from necrotic enteritis (NE). The toxin displayed limited amino acid sequence similarity to several pore forming toxins including beta-toxin from C. perfringens (38% identity) and alpha-toxin from Staphylococcus aureus (31% identity). NetB was only identified in C. perfringens type A strains isolated from chickens suffering NE. Both purified native NetB and recombinant NetB displayed cytotoxic activity against the chicken leghorn male hepatoma cell line LMH; inducing cell rounding and lysis. To determine the role of NetB in NE a netB mutant of a virulent C. perfringens chicken isolate was constructed by homologous recombination, and its virulence assessed in a chicken disease model. The netB mutant was unable to cause disease whereas the wild-type parent strain and the netB mutant complemented with a wild-type netB gene caused significant levels of NE. These data show unequivocally that in this isolate a functional NetB toxin is critical for the ability of C. perfringens to cause NE in chickens. This novel toxin is the first definitive virulence factor to be identified in avian C. perfringens strains capable of causing NE. Furthermore, the netB mutant is the first rationally attenuated strain obtained in an NE-causing isolate of C. perfringens; as such it has considerable vaccine potential.
Author Summary
Clostridium perfringens can cause gas gangrene and food poisoning in humans and causes several enterotoxemic diseases in animals including avian necrotic enteritis. This disease affects all chicken producing countries worldwide and is a considerable burden on the commercial chicken production industry. Until recently alpha-toxin was thought to be the major virulence factor involved in necrotic enteritis. However, by using an alpha-toxin null mutant it has been demonstrated that this toxin is not essential for disease. This paper details the identification and characterisation of a novel toxin, NetB, and provides evidence that the protein is an essential factor in causing necrotic enteritis in chickens. NetB has limited protein sequence identity to the beta-toxin of C. perfringens, which causes mucosal necrosis of the small intestine in humans and animals. We demonstrate that NetB null mutants can no longer cause disease in chickens, whereas both the wild-type and mutant complemented with a wild-type netB gene caused significant levels of necrotic enteritis. The identification of this important toxin advances our understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease and opens significant opportunities for the development of novel vaccines against necrotic enteritis in poultry.
PMCID: PMC2233674  PMID: 18266469
22.  Isolation of the Bacteriophage DinoHI from Dichelobacter nodosus and its Interactions with other Integrated Genetic Elements  
The Gram-negative anaerobic pathogen Dichelobacter nodosus carries several genetic elements that integrate into the chromosome. These include the intA, intB, intC and intD elements, which integrate adjacent to csrA and pnpA, two putative global regulators of virulence and the virulence-related locus, vrl, which integrates into ssrA. Treatment of D. nodosus strains with ultraviolet light resulted in the isolation of DinoHI, a member of the Siphoviridae and the first bacteriophage to be identified in D. nodosus. Part of the DinoHI genome containing the packaging site is found in all D. nodosus strains tested and is located at the end of the vrl, suggesting a role for DinoHI in the transfer of the vrl by transduction. Like the intB element, the DinoHI genome contains a copy of regA which has similarity to the repressors of lambdoid bacteriophages, suggesting that the maintenance of DinoHI and the intB element may be co-ordinately controlled.
PMCID: PMC2593044  PMID: 19088904
23.  Type IV Fimbrial Biogenesis Is Required for Protease Secretion and Natural Transformation in Dichelobacter nodosus▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(14):5022-5033.
The objective of this study was to develop an understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which type IV fimbrial biogenesis, natural transformation, and protease secretion are linked in the ovine foot rot pathogen, Dichelobacter nodosus. We have shown that like the D. nodosus fimbrial subunit FimA, the pilin-like protein PilE and the FimN, FimO, and FimP proteins, which are homologs of PilB, PilC, and PilD from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, are essential for fimbrial biogenesis and natural transformation, indicating that transformation requires an intact type IV fimbrial apparatus. The results also showed that extracellular protease secretion in the fimN, fimO, fimP, and pilE mutants was significantly reduced, which represents the first time that PilB, PilC, and PilE homologs have been shown to be required for the secretion of unrelated extracellular proteins in a type IV fimbriate bacterium. Quantitative real-time PCR analysis of the three extracellular protease genes aprV2, aprV5, and bprV showed that the effects on protease secretion were not mediated at the transcriptional level. Bioinformatic analysis did not identify a classical type II secretion system, and the putative fimbrial biogenesis gene pilQ was the only outer membrane secretin gene identified. Based on these results, it is postulated that in D. nodosus, protease secretion occurs by a type II secretion-related process that directly involves components of the type IV fimbrial biogenesis machinery, which represents the only type II secretion system encoded by the small genome of this highly evolved pathogen.
PMCID: PMC1951885  PMID: 17513472
24.  Regulation of Type IV Fimbrial Biogenesis in Dichelobacter nodosus 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(13):4801-4811.
Type IV fimbriae are expressed by several bacterial pathogens and are essential for virulence in Dichelobacter nodosus, which causes ovine footrot. We have identified a two-component signal transduction system (PilR/S) and an alternative sigma factor (σ54) that were shown by insertional inactivation to be required for the regulation of fimbrial biogenesis in D. nodosus. Western blots showed that in both pilR and rpoN mutants, fimbrial subunit production was significantly reduced by a process that was shown to occur at a PilR- and σ54-dependent promoter. The mutants lacked surface fimbriae, which were shown to be required for the adherence of D. nodosus cells to tissue culture monolayers. The reduction in fimbrial subunit production in these mutants also resulted in a concomitant loss of the ability to secrete extracellular proteases. A maltose binding protein-PilR fusion protein was purified and was shown to bind specifically to a region located 234 to 594 bp upstream of the fimA transcriptional start point. To determine additional targets of PilR and σ54, genome-wide transcriptional profiling was performed using a whole-genome oligonucleotide microarray. The results indicated that PilR and σ54 regulated genes other than fimA; these genes appear to encode surface-exposed proteins whose role in virulence is unknown. In conclusion, this study represents a significant advancement in our understanding of how the ability of D. nodosus to cause ovine footrot is regulated, as we have shown that the biogenesis of type IV fimbriae in D. nodosus is regulated by a σ54-dependent PilR/S system that also indirectly controls protease secretion.
PMCID: PMC1483018  PMID: 16788189
25.  Identification of a Dichelobacter nodosus Ferric Uptake Regulator and Determination of Its Regulatory Targets 
Journal of Bacteriology  2005;187(1):366-375.
The expression of iron regulated genes in bacteria is typically controlled by the ferric uptake regulator (Fur) protein, a global transcriptional repressor that regulates functions as diverse as iron acquisition, oxidative stress, and virulence. We have identified a fur homologue in Dichelobacter nodosus, the causative agent of ovine footrot, and shown that it complements an Escherichia coli fur mutant. Homology modeling of the D. nodosus Fur protein with the recently solved crystal structure of Fur from Pseudomonas aeruginosa indicated extensive structural conservation. As Southern hybridization analysis of different clinical isolates of D. nodosus indicated that the fur gene was present in all of these strains, the fur gene was insertionally inactivated to determine its functional role. Analysis of these mutants by various techniques did not indicate any significant differences in the expression of known virulence genes or in iron-dependent growth. However, we determined several Fur regulatory targets by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis coupled with mass spectrometry. Analysis of proteins from cytoplasmic, membrane, and extracellular fractions revealed numerous differentially expressed proteins. The transcriptional basis of these differences was analyzed by using quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR. Proteins with increased expression in the fur mutant were homologues of the periplasmic iron binding protein YfeA and a cobalt chelatase, CbiK. Down-regulated proteins included a putative manganese superoxide dismutase and ornithine decarboxylase. Based on these data, it is suggested that in D. nodosus the Fur protein functions as a regulator of iron and oxidative metabolism.
PMCID: PMC538842  PMID: 15601721

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