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Summary

Neisseria meningitidis traversal across the blood–cerebrospinal fluid barrier is an essential step in the pathogenesis of bacterial meningitis. We have previously shown that invasion of human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMEC) by meningococci is mediated by bacterial outer membrane protein Opc that binds fibronectin, thereby anchoring the bacterium to the integrin α5β1-receptor on the endothelial cell surface. However, subsequent signal transduction mechanisms essential for or regulated by N. meningitidis adhesion and invasion, or HBMEC responses to N. meningitidis are unknown. In this report we investigated the role of c-Jun N-terminal kinases 1 and 2 (JNK1 and JNK2), p38 mitogen-activated (MAP) kinase and protein tyrosine kinases in endothelial–N. meningitidis interaction. Binding of meningococci to HBMEC phosphorylated and activated JNK1 and JNK2 and p38 MAPK as well as their direct substrates c-Jun and MAP kinase activated kinase-2 (MAPKAPK-2), respectively. Non-invasive meningococcal strains lacking opc gene (opc mutants and sequence type 11 complex meningococci) still activated p38 MAPK, however, failed to activate JNK. Inhibition of JNK1 and JNK2 significantly reduced internalization of N. meningitidis by HBMEC without affecting its adherence. Blocking the endothelial integrin α5β1 also decreased N. meningitidis-induced JNK activation in HBMEC. These findings indicate the crucial role of JNK signalling pathway in N. meningitidis invasion in HBMEC. In contrast, p38 MAPK pathway was important for the control of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-8 release by HBMEC. Genistein, a protein tyrosine kinase inhibitor, decreased both invasion of N. meningitidis into HBMEC and IL-6 and IL-8 release, indicating that protein tyrosine kinases, which link signals from integrins to intracellular signalling pathways are essential for both bacterial internalization and cytokine secretion by HBMEC.