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Infect Immun. 1989 Nov;57(11):3512-9.

Release of interleukin-1 beta associated with potent cytocidal action of staphylococcal alpha-toxin on human monocytes.

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  • 1Institute of Microbiology, University of Giessen, Federal Republic of Germany.


The pathogenetic relevance of Staphylococcus aureus alpha-toxin in humans has been debated because human cells have been thought to display a natural resistance toward the cytotoxic action of this cytolysin. Following our previous demonstration that human platelets represent sensitive targets for toxin attack, we have now identified monocytes as a second, highly vulnerable human cell species that succumb to attack by low doses (20 ng/ml) of alpha-toxin. The cytotoxic action of alpha-toxin is reflected in a rapid depletion of cellular ATP that is essentially complete within 30 min. The presence of human plasma proteins affords some protection of monocytes against the action of the toxin. In 10% autologous serum, ATP depletion commences at 80 to 300 ng of toxin per ml. Subcytolytic doses stimulate the release of tumor necrosis factor alpha, a process that is slightly accentuated in the presence of 50% serum. Cytocidal toxin doses unfailingly cause the release of large amounts of interleukin-1 beta from cultured cells, with levels of this monokine generally exceeding 10 ng/ml in the cell supernatants 60 min after application of toxin. Initial evidence suggests that this is due to processing of intracellular interleukin-1 rather than to de novo synthesis of the cytokine. All noted effects are abrogated in the presence of a neutralizing monoclonal antibody against alpha-toxin. Through its capacity to provoke cytokine release from monocytes and its attack on platelets, alpha-toxin may initiate cellular events that are relevant to the pathogenesis of staphylococcal infection.

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