Author(s): Kirby JE
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Abstract Because of its ease of dispersal and high lethality, Bacillus anthracis is one of the most feared biowarfare agents. A better understanding of anthrax pathogenesis is urgently needed to develop new therapies for systemic disease that is relatively unresponsive to antibiotics. Although experimental evidence has implicated a role for macrophages in anthrax pathogenesis, clinical and pathological observations suggest that a direct insult to the host vasculature may also be important. Two bacterial toxins, lethal toxin and edema toxin, are believed to mediate the clinical sequelae of anthrax. Here, I examined whether these toxins are directly toxic to endothelial cells, the cell type that lines the interior of blood vessels. I show for the first time that lethal toxin but not edema toxin reduces the viability of cultured human endothelial cells and induces caspase-dependent endothelial apoptosis. In addition, this toxicity affects both microvascular and large vessel endothelial cells as well as endothelial cells that have differentiated into tubules within a type I collagen extracellular matrix. Finally, lethal toxin induces cleavage of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases in endothelial cells and inhibits phosphorylation of ERK, p38, and JNK p46. Based on the contributions of these pathways to endothelial survival, I propose that lethal toxin-mediated cytotoxicity/apoptosis results primarily through inhibition of the ERK pathway. I also hypothesize that the observed endothelial toxicity contributes to vascular pathology and hemorrhage during systemic anthrax.
This article was published in Infect Immun
and referenced in Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense