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J Clin Invest. 1988 Nov;82(5):1516-24.

Clostridium difficile toxin A perturbs cytoskeletal structure and tight junction permeability of cultured human intestinal epithelial monolayers.

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Department of Pathology (Gastrointestinal Pathology), Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Toxin A of Clostridium difficile causes severe inflammatory enterocolitis in man and animals that appears to be mediated in part by acute inflammatory cells that migrate into the toxin A-exposed mucosa. To determine the direct effects of toxin A on intestinal epithelial permeability and structure in the absence of other modulating factors, we used cultured monolayers of a human intestinal epithelial cell line (T84). A toxin A concentration of 7 x 10(-1) micrograms/ml (3 x 10(-9) M) nearly abolished monolayer transepithelial resistance within 6-8 h. This marked permeability defect occurred while the monolayers were still confluent. Dual sodium-mannitol flux studies localized the permeability defect to the intercellular tight junction. Cytotoxicity assays and morphological evaluation using Nomarski optics and electron microscopy failed to demonstrate any evidence of cell damage at the time the maximum resistance response was observed. Fluorescent staining for F actin, however, revealed a marked decrease in fluorescent intensity in toxin-treated monolayers versus controls. These data show that toxin A can directly affect the barrier function of this model intestinal epithelium and initially does so by selectively enhancing tight junction permeability. Furthermore, cytoskeletal structure is markedly altered over the same time course, although the integrity of individual cells is maintained. Because the cytoskeleton of intestinal epithelial cells is known to be capable of regulating tight junction permeability, we speculate that the above effects of toxin A on epithelial barrier function result from alterations of the cytoskeleton.

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