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Immunity. 2013 Jun 27;38(6):1142-53. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2013.05.016.

K⁺ efflux is the common trigger of NLRP3 inflammasome activation by bacterial toxins and particulate matter.

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Department of Pathology and Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


The NLRP3 inflammasome is an important component of the innate immune system. However, its mechanism of activation remains largely unknown. We show that NLRP3 activators including bacterial pore-forming toxins, nigericin, ATP, and particulate matter caused mitochondrial perturbation or the opening of a large membrane pore, but this was not required for NLRP3 activation. Furthermore, reactive oxygen species generation or a change in cell volume was not necessary for NLRP3 activation. Instead, the only common activity induced by all NLRP3 agonists was the permeation of the cell membrane to K⁺ and Na⁺. Notably, reduction of the intracellular K⁺ concentration was sufficient to activate NLRP3, whereas an increase in intracellular Na⁺ modulated but was not strictly required for inflammasome activation. These results provide a unifying model for the activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in which a drop in cytosolic K⁺ is the common step that is necessary and sufficient for caspase-1 activation.

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