The Journal of Immunology
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.