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Heat-labile enterotoxin-induced activation of NF-B and MAPK pathways in intestinal epithelial cells impacts enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) adherence

Wang, X;Gao, X;Hardwidge, PR;

Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) causes human morbidity and mortality in developing nations and is an emerging threat to food safety in developed nations. The ETEC heat-labile enterotoxin (LT) not only causes diarrheal disease by deregulating host adenylate cyclase, but also enhances ETEC adherence to intestinal epithelial cells. The mechanism governing this LT pro-adherence phenotype is unclear. Here we investigated intestinal epithelial cell signal transduction pathways activated by ETEC and quantified the relative importance of these host pathways to LT-induced ETEC adherence. We show that ETEC activates both NF-B and mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling pathways through mechanisms that are primarily dependent upon LT. LT-induced NF-B activation depends upon the cAMP-dependent activation of the Ras-like GTPase Rap1 but is independent of protein kinase A (PKA). By using inhibitors of these pathways, we demonstrate that inhibiting the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase prevents LT from increasing ETEC adherence. By contrast, the LT pro-adherence phenotype appears unrelated to both LT-induced Rap1 activity and to subsequent NF-B activation. We speculate that LT may alter host signal transduction to induce the presentation of ligands for ETEC adhesins in such a way that promotes ETEC adherence. Our findings provide insight into previously unexplored functions of LT and their relative importance to ETEC virulence.