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PLoS Pathog. 2019 Apr 12;15(4):e1007694. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1007694. eCollection 2019 Apr.

Cathelicidin is a "fire alarm", generating protective NLRP3-dependent airway epithelial cell inflammatory responses during infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Author information

1
Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh, Queens' Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh BioQuarter, Little France Crescent, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
2
Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Pulmonary infections are a major global cause of morbidity, exacerbated by an increasing threat from antibiotic-resistant pathogens. In this context, therapeutic interventions aimed at protectively modulating host responses, to enhance defence against infection, take on ever greater significance. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an important multidrug-resistant, opportunistic respiratory pathogen, the clearance of which can be enhanced in vivo by the innate immune modulatory properties of antimicrobial host defence peptides from the cathelicidin family, including human LL-37. Initially described primarily as bactericidal agents, cathelicidins are now recognised as multifunctional antimicrobial immunomodulators, modifying host responses to pathogens, but the key mechanisms involved in these protective functions are not yet defined. We demonstrate that P. aeruginosa infection of airway epithelial cells promotes extensive infected cell internalisation of LL-37, in a manner that is dependent upon epithelial cell interaction with live bacteria, but does not require bacterial Type 3 Secretion System (T3SS). Internalised LL-37 acts as a second signal to induce inflammasome activation in airway epithelial cells, which, in contrast to myeloid cells, are relatively unresponsive to P. aeruginosa. We demonstrate that this is mechanistically dependent upon cathepsin B release, and NLRP3-dependent activation of caspase 1. These result in LL-37-mediated release of IL-1β and IL-18 in a manner that is synergistic with P. aeruginosa infection, and can induce caspase 1-dependent death of infected epithelial cells, and promote neutrophil chemotaxis. We propose that cathelicidin can therefore act as a second signal, required by P. aeruginosa infected epithelial cells to promote an inflammasome-mediated altruistic cell death of infection-compromised epithelial cells and act as a "fire alarm" to enhance rapid escalation of protective inflammatory responses to an uncontrolled infection. Understanding this novel modulatory role for cathelicidins, has the potential to inform development of novel therapeutic strategies to antibiotic-resistant pathogens, harnessing innate immunity as a complementation or alternative to current interventions.

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