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Infect Immun. 1993 Apr;61(4):1538-43.

The cell wall mediates pneumococcal attachment to and cytopathology in human endothelial cells.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Infectious Diseases, Rockefeller University, New York, New York 10021-6399.


Streptococcus pneumoniae interacts with vascular endothelial cells during the course of bacteremia. In this study, we characterized the initial attachment of pneumococci to human endothelial cells (EC) and the response of the endothelium to this interaction. Pneumococci adhered to EC in a dose-dependent fashion. Attachment was rapid, with the majority of bacteria attached by 30 min. No difference was found between the attachment of unencapsulated (R6) and encapsulated (SIII) strains. Purified pneumococcal cell wall components competitively inhibited attachment of R6 by a maximum of 60% in a dose-dependent manner. Following attachment of pneumococci or exposure of EC to pneumococcal cell wall, pronounced changes in EC morphology ensued, resulting in striking separation of the cells of the monolayer and, eventually, destruction of the cells. The cytopathic effects of the cell wall were inhibited by antibodies to interleukin-1 but not to tumor necrosis factor. Both antibodies were required to neutralize the cytopathology caused by intact pneumococci. We conclude that pneumococci attach rapidly to human EC and that the cell wall is important in this interaction. Intact pneumococci and pneumococcal cell wall induce profound morphologic changes in human EC, leading to loss of barrier integrity. These cytopathic effects are likely to be cytokine mediated.

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