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Infect Immun. 2013 Dec;81(12):4544-50. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00627-13. Epub 2013 Sep 30.

Vaginolysin drives epithelial ultrastructural responses to Gardnerella vaginalis.

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Department of Pediatrics, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.


Gardnerella vaginalis, the bacterial species most frequently isolated from women with bacterial vaginosis (BV), produces a cholesterol-dependent cytolysin (CDC), vaginolysin (VLY). At sublytic concentrations, CDCs may initiate complex signaling cascades crucial to target cell survival. Using live-cell imaging, we observed the rapid formation of large membrane blebs in human vaginal and cervical epithelial cells (VK2 and HeLa cells) exposed to recombinant VLY toxin and to cell-free supernatants from growing liquid cultures of G. vaginalis. Binding of VLY to its human-specific receptor (hCD59) is required for bleb formation, as antibody inhibition of either toxin or hCD59 abrogates this response, and transfection of nonhuman cells (CHO-K1) with hCD59 renders them susceptible to toxin-induced membrane blebbing. Disruption of the pore formation process (by exposure to pore-deficient toxoids or pretreatment of cells with methyl-β-cyclodextrin) or osmotic protection of target cells inhibits VLY-induced membrane blebbing. These results indicate that the formation of functional pores drives the observed ultrastructural rearrangements. Rapid bleb formation may represent a conserved response of epithelial cells to sublytic quantities of pore-forming toxins, and VLY-induced epithelial cell membrane blebbing in the vaginal mucosa may play a role in the pathogenesis of BV.

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