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Open Access Research article

Differential activation of inflammatory pathways in A549 type II pneumocytes by Streptococcus pneumoniae strains with different adherence properties

Rachel L Robson, Natalie A Reed and Rebecca T Horvat*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City KS 66160, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2006, 6:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-71

Published: 11 April 2006



Adherence of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria to lung cells is a first step in the progression from asymptomatic carriage to pneumonia. Adherence abilities vary widely among S. pneumoniae patient isolates. In this study, the binding properties of S. pneumoniae isolates and the effects of binding on activation of the Nuclear Factor-Kappa-B (NFκB) pathway and cytokine secretion by type II pneumocytes were measured.


Mechanisms of high- and low-binding S. pneumoniae adherence to A549 cells were investigated by blocking putative receptors on bacteria and host cells with antibody and by eluting choline-binding proteins off of bacterial surfaces. NFκB activation was measured by western blot and immunocytochemistry and cytokine secretion was detected by a protein array.


This study shows that S. pneumoniae isolates from pneumonia patients (n = 298) can vary by as much as 1000-fold in their ability to bind to human lung epithelial cells. This difference resulted in differential activation of the NFκB pathway. High-, but not low-binding S. pneumoniae used

rotein A (CbpA) to bind to complement component C3 on epithelial cell surfaces. Interleukin-8 (IL-8) was the only cytokine secreted by cells treated with either low- or high-binding S. pneumoniae.


These results indicate that S. pneumoniae clinical isolates are not homogeneous in their interaction with host epithelial cells. The differential activation of host cells by high- and low-binding S. pneumoniae strains could have implications for the treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia and for vaccine development.