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BMC Microbiol. 2007 Oct 23;7:94.

Cirrhosis-induced defects in innate pulmonary defenses against Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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  • 1Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.



The risk of mortality from pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae is increased in patients with cirrhosis. However, the specific pneumococcal virulence factors and host immune defects responsible for this finding have not been clearly established. This study used a cirrhotic rat model of pneumococcal pneumonia to identify defect(s) in innate pulmonary defenses in the cirrhotic host and to determine the impact of the pneumococcal toxin pneumolysin on these defenses in the setting of severe cirrhosis.


No cirrhosis-associated defects in mucociliary clearance of pneumococci were found in these studies, but early intrapulmonary killing of the organisms before the arrival of neutrophils was significantly impaired. This defect was exacerbated by pneumolysin production in cirrhotic but not in control rats. Neutrophil-mediated killing of a particularly virulent type 3 pneumococcal strain also was significantly diminished within the lungs of cirrhotic rats with ascites. Levels of lysozyme and complement component C3 were both significantly reduced in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from cirrhotic rats. Finally, complement deposition was reduced on the surface of pneumococci recovered from the lungs of cirrhotic rats in comparison to organisms recovered from the lungs of control animals.


Increased mortality from pneumococcal pneumonia in this cirrhotic host is related to defects in both early pre-neutrophil- and later neutrophil-mediated pulmonary killing of the organisms. The fact that pneumolysin production impaired pre-neutrophil-mediated pneumococcal killing in cirrhotic but not control rats suggests that pneumolysin may be particularly detrimental to this defense mechanism in the severely cirrhotic host. The decrease in neutrophil-mediated killing of pneumococci within the lungs of the cirrhotic host is related to insufficient deposition of host proteins such as complement C3 on their surfaces. Pneumolysin likely plays a role in complement consumption within the lungs. Our studies, however, were unable to determine whether pneumolysin more negatively impacted this defense mechanism in cirrhotic than in control rats. These findings contribute to our understanding of the defects in innate pulmonary defenses that lead to increased mortality from pneumococcal pneumonia in the severely cirrhotic host. They also suggest that pneumolysin may be a particularly potent pneumococcal virulence factor in the setting of cirrhosis.

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