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Am J Pathol. 2009 Feb;174(2):509-18. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.080394. Epub 2009 Jan 15.

Staphylococcus aureus beta-toxin induces lung injury through syndecan-1.

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Division of Respiratory Diseases, Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


In pneumonia caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, the intense inflammatory response that is triggered by this infection can lead to the development of lung injury. Little is known, however, about the impact of specific virulence factors on this inflammatory disorder, which causes both significant mortality and morbidity. In this study, we examined the role of beta-toxin, a neutral sphingomyelinase, in S. aureus-induced lung injury. Our results showed that the central features of lung injury--specifically, increased neutrophilic inflammation, vascular leakage of serum proteins into the lung tissue, and exudation of proteins into the airway--are significantly attenuated in mice infected intranasally with S. aureus deficient in beta-toxin compared with mice infected with S. aureus expressing beta-toxin. In addition, intranasal administration of beta-toxin evoked the characteristic features of lung injury in wild-type mice whereas neutropenic mice were protected from such injury. However, mutant beta-toxin mice deficient in sphingomyelinase activity failed to trigger features of lung injury. Ablation of sphingomyelinase activity also interfered with the ability of beta-toxin to stimulate ectodomain shedding of syndecan-1, a major heparan sulfate proteoglycan found in epithelial cells. Moreover, syndecan-1-null mice were significantly protected from beta-toxin-induced lung injury relative to wild-type mice. These data indicate that S. aureus beta-toxin is a critical virulence factor that induces neutrophil-mediated lung injury through both its sphingomyelinase activity and syndecan-1.

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