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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41547. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041547. Epub 2012 Jul 23.

The Pseudomonas aeruginosa type III secretion system has an exotoxin S/T/Y independent pathogenic role during acute lung infection.

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Department of Biomedical Molecular Biology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.


The type III secretion system (T3SS) is a complex nanomachine of many pathogenic gram-negative bacteria. It forms a proteinaceous channel that is inserted into the host eukaryotic cell membrane for injection of bacterial proteins that manipulate host cell signaling. However, few studies have focused on the effector-independent functions of the T3SS. Using a murine model of acute lung infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an important human opportunistic pathogen, we compared the pathogenicity of mutant bacteria that lack all of the known effector toxins ( ΔSTY), with mutant bacteria that also lack the major translocator protein PopB (ΔSTY/ΔPopB) and so cannot form a functional T3SS channel in the host cell membrane. Mortality was higher among mice challenged with ΔSTY compared to mice challenged with ΔSTY/ΔPopB mutant bacteria. In addition, mice infected with ΔSTY showed decreased bacterial clearance from the lungs compared to those infected with ΔSTY/ΔPopB. Infection was in both cases associated with substantial killing of lung infiltrating macrophages. However, macrophages from ΔSTY-infected mice died by pro-inflammatory necrosis characterized by membrane permeabilization and caspase-1 mediated IL-1β production, whereas macrophages from ΔSTY/ΔPopB infected mice died by apoptosis, which is characterized by annexin V positive staining of the cell membrane and caspase-3 activation. This was confirmed in macrophages infected in vitro. These results demonstrate a T3SS effector toxin independent role for the T3SS, in particular the T3SS translocator protein PopB, in the pathogenicity of P. aeruginosa during acute lung infection.

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