Lung epithelial injury by B. anthracis lethal toxin is caused by MKK-dependent loss of cytoskeletal integrity

Lehmann M, Noack D, Wood M, Perego M, Knaus UG.
Source: PLoS ONE
Publication Date: (2009)
Issue: 4(3): e4755
Research Area:
Basic Research
Respiratory Research
Cells used in publication:
Epithelial, bronchial (NHBE), human
Species: human
Tissue Origin: lung
Epithelial, Small Airway, human (SAEC)
Species: human
Tissue Origin: lung


Bacillus anthracis lethal toxin (LT) is a key virulence factor of anthrax and contributes significantly to the in vivo pathology. The enzymatically active component is a Zn(2+)-dependent metalloprotease that cleaves most isoforms of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases (MKKs). Using ex vivo differentiated human lung epithelium we report that LT destroys lung epithelial barrier function and wound healing responses by immobilizing the actin and microtubule network. Long-term exposure to the toxin generated a unique cellular phenotype characterized by increased actin filament assembly, microtubule stabilization, and changes in junction complexes and focal adhesions. LT-exposed cells displayed randomly oriented, highly dynamic protrusions, polarization defects and impaired cell migration. Reconstitution of MAPK pathways revealed that this LT-induced phenotype was primarily dependent on the coordinated loss of MKK1 and MKK2 signaling. Thus, MKKs control fundamental aspects of cytoskeletal dynamics and cell motility. Even though LT disabled repair mechanisms, agents such as keratinocyte growth factor or dexamethasone improved epithelial barrier integrity by reducing cell death. These results suggest that co-administration of anti-cytotoxic drugs may be of benefit when treating inhalational anthrax.