Bacteriophages as pathogens and immune modulators?

A Lengeling, A Mahajan, D L Gally

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ABSTRACT While Shiga toxins (Stx) are key determinants of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) pathophysiology in humans, their dissemination to target organs following gastrointestinal EHEC infection is still poorly understood. Most types of Stx target cells with globotriaosylceramide (Gb3) receptors, which are expressed on endothelial cells. According to current theory, Stx is trafficked on the surface of peripheral blood cells, and transfer of toxin from these trafficking cells to endothelial cells results in microvascular damage to target organs, including the kidneys and brain. Inside the cell, Stx inhibits protein synthesis, resulting in cell death. Host "repair" responses can lead to microthrombus formation, erythrocyte damage, and reduced oxygen supply, potentially resulting in organ failure. A recent study [L. V. Bentancor et al., mBio 4(5):e00501-13, 2013, doi:10.1128/mBio.00501-13] indicates that another mechanism for Stx "dissemination" needs to be considered. Bentancor et al. demonstrated that high-pressure injection of a plasmid encoding the "prokaryotic" Stx2 sequence into mice can lead to mortality, with pathology indicative of Stx activity and antibody responses to Stx. While the plasmid levels and injection methodology were extreme, the study indicates that these sequences are potentially taken up into eukaryotic cells, transcribed, and translated, producing active Stx. Stx genes are present on integrated bacteriophage genomes in EHEC, and Stx-encoding phages are released following bacterial lysis in the gastrointestinal tract. We therefore need to consider whether bacteriophage sequences can be expressed in eukaryotic cells, what the wider implications are for our understanding of many "bacterial" diseases, and the possibility of developing novel interventions that target bacteriophages.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00868-13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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