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Br J Pharmacol. 2012 Oct;167(3):612-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.02040.x.

Toll-like receptor 4 knockout protects against anthrax lethal toxin-induced cardiac contractile dysfunction: role of autophagy.

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  • 1Center for Cardiovascular Research and Alternative Medicine, University of Wyoming, College of Health Sciences, Laramie, WY, USA.



Anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) is known to induce circulatory shock and death, although the underlying mechanisms have not been elucidated. This study was designed to evaluate the role of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) in anthrax lethal toxin-induced cardiac contractile dysfunction.


Wild-type (WT) and TLR4 knockout (TLR⁻/⁻) mice were challenged with lethal toxin (2 µg·g⁻¹, i.p.), and cardiac function was assessed 18 h later using echocardiography and edge detection. Small interfering RNA (siRNA) was employed to knockdown TLR4 receptor or class III PI3K in H9C2 myoblasts. GFP-LC3 puncta was used to assess autophagosome formation. Western blot analysis was performed to evaluate autophagy (LC3, Becline-1, Agt5 and Agt7) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress (BiP, eIF2α and calreticulin).


In WT mice, lethal toxin exposure induced cardiac contractile dysfunction, as evidenced by reduced fractional shortening, peak shortening, maximal velocity of shortening/re-lengthening, prolonged re-lengthening duration and intracellular Ca²⁺ derangement. These effects were significantly attenuated or absent in the TLR4 knockout mice. In addition, lethal toxin elicited autophagy in the absence of change in ER stress. Knockdown of TLR4 or class III PI3 kinase using siRNA but not the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine significantly attenuated or inhibited lethal toxin-induced autophagy in H9C2 cells.


Our results suggest that TLR4 may be pivotal in mediating the lethal cardiac toxicity induced by anthrax possibly through induction of autophagy. These findings suggest that compounds that negatively modulate TLR4 signalling and autophagy could be used to treat anthrax infection-induced cardiovascular complications.

© 2012 The Authors. British Journal of Pharmacology © 2012 The British Pharmacological Society.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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