Type III protein secretion is associated with poor clinical outcomes in patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Crit Care Med. 2002 Mar;30(3):521-8. doi: 10.1097/00003246-200203000-00005.


Objective: Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a frequent cause of ventilator-associated pneumonia. Recent evidence suggests that production of type III secretion proteins is correlated with increased pathogenicity in both cellular and animal models of infection. The objective of this study was to determine whether this system contributes to disease severity in humans with ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Design: Retrospective pilot cohort study.

Setting: University hospital.

Patients: Thirty-five mechanically ventilated patients with bronchoscopically confirmed ventilator-associated pneumonia caused by P. aeruginosa.

Measurements and main results: Ventilator-associated pneumonia was categorized as severe (patients died or had a recurrence of their pneumonia despite appropriate antibiotic therapy) or mild (patients uneventfully recovered from their pneumonia). The type III secretion genotypes and phenotypes of isolates cultured from the patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia were determined. Whereas every examined isolate harbored type III secretion genes, only 27 (77%) were capable of secreting detectable amounts of type III proteins in vitro. Twenty-two (81%) of the patients infected with these 27 isolates had severe disease. Of the eight isolates that did not secrete type III proteins, only three (38%) were cultured from patients with severe disease. Thus, infection with a type-III-secreting isolate correlated with severe disease (p < .05). In vitro assays indicated that ExoU, the type III effector protein most closely linked to mortality in animal models, was secreted in detectable amounts in vitro by 10 (29%) of the 35 examined isolates. Nine (90%) of these 10 isolates were cultured from patients with severe disease (p < .05 when compared with the nonsecreting isolates). In contrast, ExoS was secreted by 16 (46%) of the 35 examined isolates. Twelve (75%) of these 16 isolates were cultured from patients with severe disease (p = .14 when compared with the nonsecreting isolates).

Conclusions: In patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia, type-III-secreting isolates were associated with worse clinical outcomes, suggesting that this secretion system plays an important role in human disease. Our findings support the hypothesis that antibodies targeted against these proteins may be useful as adjunctive therapy in intubated patients with P. aeruginosa colonization or infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • Genotype
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / etiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / mortality
  • Pseudomonas Infections / etiology
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / mortality
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Respiration, Artificial / adverse effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spain / epidemiology


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • DNA, Bacterial