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Infect Immun. Jul 1989; 57(7): 2006–2013.
PMCID: PMC313834

Effect of Streptococcus pneumoniae on human respiratory epithelium in vitro.


A total of 11 of 15 Streptococcus pneumoniae culture filtrates and all five bacterial autolysates produced by cell death in the stationary phase caused slowed ciliary beating and disruption of the surface integrity of human respiratory epithelium in organ culture. This effect was inhibited by cholesterol and was heat labile and reduced by standing at room temperature but was stable at -40 degrees C. The activity was detected at the late stationary phase of culture and was associated with the presence of hemolytic activity. Gel filtration of a concentrated culture filtrate and autolysate both yielded a single fraction of approximately 50 kilodaltons which slowed ciliary beating and were the only fractions with hemolytic activity. Rabbit antiserum to pneumolysin, a sulfhydryl-activated hemolytic cytotoxin released by S. pneumoniae during autolysis, neutralized the effect of the culture filtrate on respiratory epithelium. Both native and recombinant pneumolysin caused ciliary slowing and epithelial disruption. Electron microscopy showed a toxic effect of pneumolysin on epithelial cells: cytoplasmic blebs, mitochondrial swelling, cellular extrusion, and cell death, but no change in ciliary ultrastructure. Recombinant pneumolysin (10 micrograms/ml) caused ciliary slowing in the absence of changes in cell ultrastructure. Release of pneumolysin in the respiratory tract during infection may perturb host defenses, allowing bacterial proliferation and spread.

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Selected References

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