Pore-forming toxins are the most common virulence factor in pathogenic bacteria. They lead to membrane permeabilization and cell death. Herein, we show that respiratory epithelial cells (REC) undergoing bacterial pore-forming toxin (PFT)-induced necroptosis simultaneously experienced caspase activation independently of RIPK3. MLKL deficient REC treated with a pan-caspase inhibitor were protected in an additive manner against PFT-induced death. Subsequently, cleaved versions of caspases-2, -4 and -10 were detected within REC undergoing necroptosis by immunoblots and monoclonal antibody staining. Caspase activation was observed in lung samples from mice and non-human primates experiencing Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial pneumonia, respectively. During apoptosis, caspase activation normally leads to cell shrinkage, nuclear condensation, and immunoquiescent death. In contrast, caspase activity during PFT-induced necroptosis increased the release of alarmins to the extracellular milieu. Caspase-mediated alarmin release was found sufficient to activate resting macrophages, leading to Interleukin-6 production. In a mouse model of Gram-negative pneumonia, deletion of caspases -2 and -11, the mouse orthologue of caspase-4, reduced pulmonary inflammation, immune cell infiltration and lung damage. Thus, our study describes a previously unrecognized role for caspase activation in parallel to necroptosis, and indicates that their activity plays a critical pro-inflammatory role during bacterial pneumonia.
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