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Front Immunol. 2017 Jul 21;8:842. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00842. eCollection 2017.

Epithelial Sodium Channel-α Mediates the Protective Effect of the TNF-Derived TIP Peptide in Pneumolysin-Induced Endothelial Barrier Dysfunction.

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Vascular Biology Center, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, Augusta, GA, United States.
Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL, United States.
Division of Nephrology, Hypertension, and Renal Transplantation, Department of Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL, United States.
Cardiovascular Research Institute, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, United States.
Institute for Medical Microbiology, Justus-Liebig University, Giessen, Germany.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, Augusta, GA, United States.
Department of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, Augusta, GA, United States.
Department of Physiology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, United States.



Streptococcus pneumoniae is a major etiologic agent of bacterial pneumonia. Autolysis and antibiotic-mediated lysis of pneumococci induce release of the pore-forming toxin, pneumolysin (PLY), their major virulence factor, which is a prominent cause of acute lung injury. PLY inhibits alveolar liquid clearance and severely compromises alveolar-capillary barrier function, leading to permeability edema associated with pneumonia. As a consequence, alveolar flooding occurs, which can precipitate lethal hypoxemia by impairing gas exchange. The α subunit of the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) is crucial for promoting Na+ reabsorption across Na+-transporting epithelia. However, it is not known if human lung microvascular endothelial cells (HL-MVEC) also express ENaC-α and whether this subunit is involved in the regulation of their barrier function.


The presence of α, β, and γ subunits of ENaC and protein phosphorylation status in HL-MVEC were assessed in western blotting. The role of ENaC-α in monolayer resistance of HL-MVEC was examined by depletion of this subunit by specific siRNA and by employing the TNF-derived TIP peptide, a specific activator that directly binds to ENaC-α.


HL-MVEC express all three subunits of ENaC, as well as acid-sensing ion channel 1a (ASIC1a), which has the capacity to form hybrid non-selective cation channels with ENaC-α. Both TIP peptide, which specifically binds to ENaC-α, and the specific ASIC1a activator MitTx significantly strengthened barrier function in PLY-treated HL-MVEC. ENaC-α depletion significantly increased sensitivity to PLY-induced hyperpermeability and in addition, blunted the protective effect of both the TIP peptide and MitTx, indicating an important role for ENaC-α and for hybrid NSC channels in barrier function of HL-MVEC. TIP peptide blunted PLY-induced phosphorylation of both calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII) and of its substrate, the actin-binding protein filamin A (FLN-A), requiring the expression of both ENaC-α and ASIC1a. Since non-phosphorylated FLN-A promotes ENaC channel open probability and blunts stress fiber formation, modulation of this activity represents an attractive target for the protective actions of ENaC-α in both barrier function and liquid clearance.


Our results in cultured endothelial cells demonstrate a previously unrecognized role for ENaC-α in strengthening capillary barrier function that may apply to the human lung. Strategies aiming to activate endothelial NSC channels that contain ENaC-α should be further investigated as a novel approach to improve barrier function in the capillary endothelium during pneumonia.


TNF; endothelial barrier function; epithelial sodium channel; non-selective cation channel; pneumolysin; pneumonia

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