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Keywords:

  • astrocyte;
  • pneumolysin;
  • cholesterol-dependent cytolysin;
  • meningitis;
  • edema;
  • actin

Abstract

Astrocytes represent a major component of brain tissue and play a critical role in the proper functioning and protection of the brain. Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, has a high lethality and causes serious disabilities in survivors. Pneumolysin (PLY), a member of the cholesterol-dependent cytolysin group and a major S. pneumoniae neurotoxin, causes deterioration over the course of experimental S. pneumoniae meningitis. At disease-relevant sub-lytic concentrations, PLY produces actin and tubulin reorganization and astrocyte cell shape changes in vitro. In this article, we show that sub-lytic amounts of PLY remodel brain tissue and produce astrocytic process retraction, cortical astroglial reorganization and increased interstitial fluid retention, which is manifested as tissue edema. These changes caused increased tissue permeability to macromolecules and bacteria. The pore-forming capacity of PLY remained necessary for these changes because none of the nonpore-forming mutants were capable of producing similar effects. We suggest that PLY can increase the permeability of brain tissue toward pathogenic factors and bacteria in the course of meningitis, thus contributing to the deterioration caused by the disease. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.