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Concept: Endotoxin


ABSTRACT New treatments are needed for extensively drug-resistant (XDR) Gram-negative bacilli (GNB), such as Acinetobacter baumannii. Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) was previously reported to enhance bacterial clearance of GNB, including A. baumannii. However, here we have shown that 100% of wild-type mice versus 0% of TLR4-deficient mice died of septic shock due to A. baumannii infection, despite having similar tissue bacterial burdens. The strain lipopolysaccharide (LPS) content and TLR4 activation by extracted LPS did not correlate with in vivo virulence, nor did colistin resistance due to LPS phosphoethanolamine modification. However, more-virulent strains shed more LPS during growth than less-virulent strains, resulting in enhanced TLR4 activation. Due to the role of LPS in A. baumannii virulence, an LpxC inhibitor (which affects lipid A biosynthesis) antibiotic was tested. The LpxC inhibitor did not inhibit growth of the bacterium (MIC > 512 µg/ml) but suppressed A. baumannii LPS-mediated activation of TLR4. Treatment of infected mice with the LpxC inhibitor enhanced clearance of the bacteria by enhancing opsonophagocytic killing, reduced serum LPS concentrations and inflammation, and completely protected the mice from lethal infection. These results identify a previously unappreciated potential for the new class of LpxC inhibitor antibiotics to treat XDR A. baumannii infections. Furthermore, they have far-reaching implications for pathogenesis and treatment of infections caused by GNB and for the discovery of novel antibiotics not detected by standard in vitro screens. IMPORTANCE Novel treatments are needed for infections caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, a Gram-negative bacterium that is extremely antibiotic resistant. The current study was undertaken to understand the immunopathogenesis of these infections, as a basis for defining novel treatments. The primary strain characteristic that differentiated virulent from less-virulent strains was shedding of Gram-negative lipopolysaccharide (LPS) during growth. A novel class of antibiotics, called LpxC inhibitors, block LPS synthesis, but these drugs do not demonstrate the ability to kill A. baumannii in vitro. We found that an LpxC inhibitor blocked the ability of bacteria to activate the sepsis cascade, enhanced opsonophagocytic killing of the bacteria, and protected mice from lethal infection. Thus, an entire new class of antibiotics which is already in development has heretofore-unrecognized potential to treat A. baumannii infections. Furthermore, standard antibiotic screens based on in vitro killing failed to detect this treatment potential of LpxC inhibitors for A. baumannii infections.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Microbiology, Antibiotic resistance, Lipid, Penicillin, Acinetobacter baumannii, Endotoxin


Transgenic crop “pyramids” producing two or more Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins active against the same pest are used to delay evolution of resistance in insect pest populations. Laboratory and greenhouse experiments were performed with fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, to characterize resistance to Bt maize producing Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab and test some assumptions of the “pyramid” resistance management strategy. Selection of a field-derived strain of S. frugiperda already resistant to Cry1F maize with Cry1A.105 + Cry2Ab maize for ten generations produced resistance that allowed the larvae to colonize and complete the life cycle on these Bt maize plants. Greenhouse experiments revealed that the resistance was completely recessive (Dx = 0), incomplete, autosomal, and without maternal effects or cross-resistance to the Vip3Aa20 toxin produced in other Bt maize events. This profile of resistance supports some of the assumptions of the pyramid strategy for resistance management. However, laboratory experiments with purified Bt toxin and plant leaf tissue showed that resistance to Cry1A.105 + Cry2Ab2 maize further increased resistance to Cry1Fa, which indicates that populations of fall armyworm have high potential for developing resistance to some currently available pyramided maize used against this pest, especially where resistance to Cry1Fa was reported in the field.

Concepts: Bacillus, Leaf, Bacillus thuringiensis, Endotoxin, Genetically modified food, Army worm, Spodoptera, Transgenic maize


In the past, we showed that large electrolytic lesions of the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) promoted hypothermia in cold-exposed restrained rats, but attenuated hypothermia in rats challenged with a high dose of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in a thermogradient apparatus. The goal of this study was to identify the thermoeffector mechanisms and DMH representation of the two phenomena and, hence, understand how the same lesion could produce two opposite effects on body temperature. We found that the permissive effect of large electrolytic DMH lesions on cold-induced hypothermia was due to suppressed thermogenesis. DMH-lesioned rats also could not develop fever autonomically: they did not increase thermogenesis in response to a low, pyrogenic dose of LPS (10 μg/kg, i.v.). In contrast, changes in thermogenesis were uninvolved in the attenuation of the hypothermic response to a high, shock-inducing dose of LPS (5,000 μg/kg, i.v.); this attenuation was due to a blockade of cold-seeking behavior. To compile DMH maps for the autonomic cold defense and for the cold-seeking response to LPS, we studied rats with small thermal lesions in different parts of the DMH. Cold thermogenesis had the highest representation in the dorsal hypothalamic area. Cold seeking was represented by a site at the ventral border of the dorsomedial nucleus. Because LPS causes both fever and hypothermia, we originally thought that the DMH contained a single thermoregulatory site that worked as a fever-hypothermia switch. Instead, we have found two separate sites: one that drives thermogenesis, and the other, previously unknown, that drives inflammation-associated cold seeking.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTCold-seeking behavior is a life-saving response that occurs in severe systemic inflammation. We studied this behavior in rats with lesions in the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) challenged with a shock-inducing dose of bacterial endotoxin. We built functional maps of the DMH and found the strongest representation of cold-seeking behavior at the ventral border of the dorsomedial nucleus. We also built maps for cold-induced thermogenesis in unanesthetized rats and found the dorsal hypothalamic area to be its main representation site. Our work identifies the neural substrate of cold-seeking behavior in systemic inflammation and expands the functional topography of the DMH – a structure that modulates autonomic, endocrine, and behavioral responses and is a potential therapeutic target in anxiety and panic disorders.

Concepts: Inflammation, Hypothalamus, Lipopolysaccharide, Thermoregulation, Hyperthermia, Fever, Endotoxin, Shivering


Many insect pests have developed resistance to existing chemical insecticides and consequently there is much interest in the development of new insecticidal compounds with novel modes of action. Although spiders have deployed insecticidal toxins in their venoms for over 250 million years, there is no evolutionary selection pressure on these toxins to possess oral activity since they are injected into prey and predators via a hypodermic needle-like fang. Thus, it has been assumed that spider-venom peptides are not orally active and are therefore unlikely to be useful insecticides. Contrary to this dogma, we show that it is possible to isolate spider-venom peptides with high levels of oral insecticidal activity by directly screening for per os toxicity. Using this approach, we isolated a 34-residue orally active insecticidal peptide (OAIP-1) from venom of the Australian tarantula Selenotypus plumipes. The oral LD50 for OAIP-1 in the agronomically important cotton bollworm Helicoverpa armigera was 104.2±0.6 pmol/g, which is the highest per os activity reported to date for an insecticidal venom peptide. OAIP-1 is equipotent with synthetic pyrethroids and it acts synergistically with neonicotinoid insecticides. The three-dimensional structure of OAIP-1 determined using NMR spectroscopy revealed that the three disulfide bonds form an inhibitor cystine knot motif; this structural motif provides the peptide with a high level of biological stability that probably contributes to its oral activity. OAIP-1 is likely to be synergized by the gut-lytic activity of the Bacillus thuringiensis Cry toxin (Bt) expressed in insect-resistant transgenic crops, and consequently it might be a good candidate for trait stacking with Bt.

Concepts: Protein, Toxin, Bacillus thuringiensis, Endotoxin, Spider, Venom, Helicoverpa armigera, Spider bite


Gastrointestinal (GI) ischemia during exercise is associated with luminal permeability and increased systemic lipopolysaccharides (LPS). This study aimed to assess the impact of a multistrain pro/prebiotic/antioxidant intervention on endotoxin unit levels and GI permeability in recreational athletes. Thirty healthy participants (25 males, 5 females) were randomly assigned either a multistrain pro/prebiotic/antioxidant (LAB⁴ANTI; 30 billion CFU·day(-1) containing 10 billion CFU·day(-1)Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL-60 (NCIMB 30157), 10 billion CFU·day(-1)Lactobacillus acidophillus CUL-21 (NCIMB 30156), 9.5 billion CFU·day(-1)Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL-20 (NCIMB 30172) and 0.5 billion CFU·day(-1)Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis CUL-34 (NCIMB 30153)/55.8 mg·day(-1) fructooligosaccharides/ 400 mg·day(-1) α-lipoic acid, 600 mg·day(-1)N-acetyl-carnitine); matched pro/prebiotic (LAB⁴) or placebo (PL) for 12 weeks preceding a long-distance triathlon. Plasma endotoxin units (via Limulus amebocyte lysate chromogenic quantification) and GI permeability (via 5 h urinary lactulose (L): mannitol (M) recovery) were assessed at baseline, pre-race and six days post-race. Endotoxin unit levels were not significantly different between groups at baseline (LAB⁴ANTI: 8.20 ± 1.60 pg·mL(-1); LAB⁴: 8.92 ± 1.20 pg·mL(-1); PL: 9.72 ± 2.42 pg·mL(-1)). The use of a 12-week LAB⁴ANTI intervention significantly reduced endotoxin units both pre-race (4.37 ± 0.51 pg·mL(-1)) and six days post-race (5.18 ± 0.57 pg·mL(-1); p = 0.03, ηp² = 0.35), but only six days post-race with LAB⁴ (5.01 ± 0.28 pg·mL(-1); p = 0.01, ηp² = 0.43). In contrast, endotoxin units remained unchanged with PL. L:M significantly increased from 0.01 ± 0.01 at baseline to 0.06 ± 0.01 with PL only (p = 0.004, ηp² = 0.51). Mean race times (h:min:s) were not statistically different between groups despite faster times with both pro/prebiotoic groups (LAB⁴ANTI: 13:17:07 ± 0:34:48; LAB⁴: 12:47:13 ± 0:25:06; PL: 14:12:51 ± 0:29:54; p > 0.05). Combined multistrain pro/prebiotic use may reduce endotoxin unit levels, with LAB⁴ANTI potentially conferring an additive effect via combined GI modulation and antioxidant protection.

Concepts: Lipopolysaccharide, Endotoxin


Gram-negative bacterial infections are accompanied by inflammation and somatic or visceral pain. These symptoms are generally attributed to sensitization of nociceptors by inflammatory mediators released by immune cells. Nociceptor sensitization during inflammation occurs through activation of the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) signalling pathway by lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a toxic by-product of bacterial lysis. Here we show that LPS exerts fast, membrane delimited, excitatory actions via TRPA1, a transient receptor potential cation channel that is critical for transducing environmental irritant stimuli into nociceptor activity. Moreover, we find that pain and acute vascular reactions, including neurogenic inflammation (CGRP release) caused by LPS are primarily dependent on TRPA1 channel activation in nociceptive sensory neurons, and develop independently of TLR4 activation. The identification of TRPA1 as a molecular determinant of direct LPS effects on nociceptors offers new insights into the pathogenesis of pain and neurovascular responses during bacterial infections and opens novel avenues for their treatment.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Action potential, Lipopolysaccharide, Pain, Nociception, Nociceptor, Endotoxin


Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is essential for most Gram-negative bacteria and has crucial roles in protection of the bacteria from harsh environments and toxic compounds, including antibiotics. Seven LPS transport proteins (that is, LptA-LptG) form a trans-envelope protein complex responsible for the transport of LPS from the inner membrane to the outer membrane, the mechanism for which is poorly understood. Here we report the first crystal structure of the unique integral membrane LPS translocon LptD-LptE complex. LptD forms a novel 26-stranded β-barrel, which is to our knowledge the largest β-barrel reported so far. LptE adopts a roll-like structure located inside the barrel of LptD to form an unprecedented two-protein ‘barrel and plug’ architecture. The structure, molecular dynamics simulations and functional assays suggest that the hydrophilic O-antigen and the core oligosaccharide of the LPS may pass through the barrel and the lipid A of the LPS may be inserted into the outer leaflet of the outer membrane through a lateral opening between strands β1 and β26 of LptD. These findings not only help us to understand important aspects of bacterial outer membrane biogenesis, but also have significant potential for the development of novel drugs against multi-drug resistant pathogenic bacteria.

Concepts: Protein, Bacteria, Microbiology, Antibiotic resistance, Escherichia coli, Lipopolysaccharide, Lipid, Endotoxin


Effective control of endotoxins and bacteria is crucial for normal wound healing. During injury, the key enzyme thrombin is formed, leading to generation of fibrin. Here, we show that human neutrophil elastase cleaves thrombin, generating 11-kDa thrombin-derived C-terminal peptides (TCPs), which bind to and form amorphous amyloid-like aggregates with both bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and gram-negative bacteria. In silico molecular modeling using atomic resolution and coarse-grained simulations corroborates our experimental observations, altogether indicating increased aggregation through LPS-mediated intermolecular contacts between clusters of TCP molecules. Upon bacterial aggregation, recombinantly produced TCPs induce permeabilization of Escherichia coli and phagocytic uptake. TCPs of about 11 kDa are present in acute wound fluids as well as in fibrin sloughs from patients with infected wounds. We noted aggregation and colocalization of LPS with TCPs in such fibrin material, which indicates the presence of TCP-LPS aggregates under physiological conditions. Apart from identifying a function of proteolyzed thrombin and its fragments, our findings provide an interesting link between the coagulation system, innate immunity, LPS scavenging, and protein aggregation/amyloid formation.

Concepts: Protein, Wound healing, Escherichia coli, Platelet, Wound, Neutrophil granulocyte, Elastase, Endotoxin


To delay evolution of pest resistance to transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the “pyramid” strategy uses plants that produce two or more toxins that kill the same pest. In the United States, this strategy has been adopted widely, with two-toxin Bt cotton replacing one-toxin Bt cotton. Although two-toxin plants are likely to be more durable than one-toxin plants, the extent of this advantage depends on several conditions. One key assumption favoring success of two-toxin plants is that they kill insects selected for resistance to one toxin, which is called “redundant killing.” Here we tested this assumption for a major pest, Helicoverpa zea, on transgenic cotton producing Bt toxins Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab. Selection with Cry1Ac increased survival on two-toxin cotton, which contradicts the assumption. The concentration of Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab declined during the growing season, which would tend to exacerbate this problem. Furthermore, analysis of results from 21 selection experiments with eight species of lepidopteran pests indicates that some cross-resistance typically occurs between Cry1A and Cry2A toxins. Incorporation of empirical data into simulation models shows that the observed deviations from ideal conditions could greatly reduce the benefits of the pyramid strategy for pests like H. zea, which have inherently low susceptibility to Bt toxins and have been exposed extensively to one of the toxins in the pyramid before two-toxin plants are adopted. For such pests, the pyramid strategy could be improved by incorporating empirical data on deviations from ideal assumptions about redundant killing and cross-resistance.

Concepts: Bacillus, Lepidoptera, Bacillus thuringiensis, Endotoxin, Genetically modified food, Helicoverpa, Monsanto, Plant Genetic Systems


A cell surface heterodimer Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)/MD-2 senses lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a principal membrane component of Gram-negative bacteria. LPS binds to MD-2 and induces dimerization of TLR4/MD-2. Dimerized TLR4 activates downstream signaling. TLR4 polymorphism replacing Asp299 with Gly and Thr399 with Ile (D299G/T399I) causes LPS hyporesponsiveness, and is associated with a variety of infectious and noninfectious diseases. However, a molecular mechanism underlying the LPS hyporesponsiveness remains controversial. We here asked whether the TLR4 polymorphism influenced cell surface expression of TLR4/MD-2, ligand-dependent TLR4/MD-2 dimerization or TLR4/MD-2 responses to a weak agonist monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL). A newly established anti-TLR4 mAb detected D299G/T399I TLR4/MD-2 on Ba/F3 cells, whereas a previous anti-TLR4 mAb did will this fit on the line above?, suggesting that the D299G/T399I polymorphism caused a conformational change in TLR4. Hyporesponsiveness of D299G/T399I TLR4/MD-2 was much more apparent when cells were stimulated with MPL than with lipid A. MPL-dependent TLR4/MD-2 dimerization was impaired by the D299G/T399I polymorphism. The D299G/T399I polymorphism did not alter LPS-binding to soluble TLR4/MD-2, but impaired its dimerization. These results suggest that the D299G/T399I TLR4 polymorphism impairs TLR4/MD-2 responses by altering ligand-dependent dimerization.

Concepts: Immune system, Chromosome, Toll-like receptor, Receptor, Lipopolysaccharide, Lipid, TLR 4, Endotoxin