Role of pneumolysin for the development of acute lung injury in pneumococcal pneumonia

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Acute respiratory failure is a significant complication of severe pneumococcal pneumonia. In a mouse model, we observed early-onset lung microvascular leakage after pulmonary infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae, and we hypothesized that the important virulence factor pneumolysin may be the direct causative agent.


Controlled, in vivo, ex vivo, and in vitro laboratory study.




Female mice, 8–12 wks old.


Ventilated and blood-free perfused murine lungs were challenged with recombinant pneumolysin via the airways as well as via the vascular bed. In addition, we analyzed the impact of pneumolysin on electrical cell impedance and hydraulic conductivity of human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) and alveolar epithelial cell (A549) monolayers.

Measurements and Main Results:

Aerosolized pneumolysin dose-dependently increased capillary permeability with formation of severe lung edema but did not affect pulmonary vascular resistance. Intravascular pneumolysin caused an impressive dose-dependent increase in pulmonary vascular resistance and in lung microvascular permeability. By immunohistochemistry, pneumolysin was detected mainly in endothelial cells of pulmonary arterial vessels, which concomitantly displayed strong vasoconstriction. Moreover, pneumolysin increased permeability of HUVEC and A549 monolayers. Interestingly, immunofluorescence of endothelial cell monolayers exposed to pneumolysin showed gap formation and moderate stress fiber generation.


Pneumolysin may play a central role for early-onset acute lung injury due to severe pneumococcal pneumonia by causing impairment of pulmonary microvascular barrier function and severe pulmonary hypertension.

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