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Anthrax Lethal Toxin Has Direct and Potent Inhibitory Effects on B Cell Proliferation and Immunoglobulin Production

Fang H, Xu L, Chen TY, Cyr JM, Frucht DM

Protective host immune responses to anthrax infection in humans and animal models are characterized by the development of neutralizing Abs against the receptor-binding anthrax protective Ag (PA), which, together with the lethal factor (LF) protease, composes anthrax lethal toxin (LT). We now report that B cells, in turn, are targets for LT. Anthrax PA directly binds primary B cells, resulting in the LF-dependent cleavage of the MAPK kinases (MAPKKs) and disrupted signaling to downstream MAPK targets. Although not directly lethal to B cells, anthrax LT treatment causes severe B cell dysfunction, greatly reducing proliferative responses to IL-4-, anti-IgM-, and/or anti-CD40 stimulation. Moreover, B cells treated with anthrax LT in vitro or isolated from mice treated with anthrax LT in vivo have a markedly diminished capacity to proliferate and produce IgM in response to TLR-2 and TLR-4 ligands. The suppressive effects of anthrax LT on B cell function occur at picomolar concentrations in vitro and at sublethal doses in vivo. These results indicate that anthrax LT directly inhibits the function of B cells in vitro and in vivo, revealing a potential mechanism through which the pathogen could bypass protective immune responses.