Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia causes significant morbidity and mortality. Alpha-hemolysin (Hla), a pore-forming cytotoxin of S. aureus, has been identified through animal models of pneumonia as a critical virulence factor that induces lung injury. In spite of considerable molecular knowledge of how this cytotoxin injures the host, the precise host response to Hla in the context of infection remains poorly understood. We employed whole-genome expression profiling of infected lungs to define the host response to wild-type S. aureus compared with the response to an Hla-deficient isogenic mutant in experimental pneumonia. These data provide a complete expression profile at 4 and at 24 h postinfection, revealing a unique response to the toxin-expressing strain. Gene ontogeny analysis revealed significant differences in the extracellular matrix and cardiomyopathy pathways, both of which govern cellular interactions in the tissue microenvironment. Evaluation of individual transcript responses to Hlasecreting staphylococci was notable for upregulation of host cytokine and chemokine genes, including the p19 subunit of interleukin-23. Consistent with this observation, the cellular immune response to infection was characterized by a prominent Th17 response to the wild-type pathogen. These findings define specific host mRNA responses to Hla-producing S. aureus, coupling the pulmonary Th17 response to the secretion of this cytotoxin. Expression profiling to define the host response to a single virulence factor proved to be a valuable tool in identifying pathways for further investigation in S. aureus pneumonia. This approach may be broadly applicable to the study of bacterial toxins, defining host pathways that can be targeted to mitigate toxin-induced disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases