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Upregulation of the host SLC11A1 gene by Clostridium difficile toxin B facilitates glucosylation of Rho GTPases and enhances toxin lethality

Feng, Y;Cohen, SN;

Pseudomembranous enterocolitis associated with Clostridium difficile infection is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in patients being treated with antibiotics. Two closely related large protein toxins produced by C. difficile, TcdA and TcdB, which act identically but at different efficiencies to glucosylate low-molecular-weight Rho GTPases, underlie the microbe's pathogenicity. Using antisense RNA encoded by a library of human expressed sequence tags (ESTs), we randomly inactivated host chromosomal genes in HeLa cells and isolated clones that survived exposure to ordinarily lethal doses of TcdB. This phenotypic screening and subsequent analysis identified solute carrier family 11 member 1 (SLC11A1; formerly NRAMP1), a divalent cation transporter crucial to host defense against certain microbes, as an enhancer of TcdB lethality. Whereas SLC11A1 normally is poorly expressed in human cells of nonmyeloid lineage, TcdB increased SLC11A1 mRNA abundance in such cells through the actions of the RNA-binding protein HuR. We show that short hairpin RNA (shRNA) directed against SLC11A1 reduced TcdB glucosylation of small Rho GTPases and, consequently, toxin lethality. Consistent with the previously known role of SLC11A1 in cation transport, these effects were enhanced by elevation of Mn(2+) in media; conversely, they were decreased by treatment with a chelator of divalent cations. Our findings reveal an unsuspected role for SLC11A1 in determining C. difficile pathogenicity, demonstrate the novel ability of a bacterial toxin to increase its cytotoxicity, establish a mechanistic basis for these effects, and suggest a therapeutic approach to mitigate cell killing by C. difficile toxins A and B.