ExoS and ExoT ADP ribosyltransferase activities mediate Pseudomonas aeruginosa keratitis by promoting neutrophil apoptosis and bacterial survival

J Immunol. 2012 Feb 15;188(4):1884-95. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1102148. Epub 2012 Jan 16.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a leading cause of blinding corneal ulcers worldwide. To determine the role of type III secretion in the pathogenesis of P. aeruginosa keratitis, corneas of C57BL/6 mice were infected with P. aeruginosa strain PAO1 or PAK, which expresses ExoS, ExoT, and ExoY, but not ExoU. PAO1- and PAK-infected corneas developed severe disease with pronounced opacification and rapid bacterial growth. In contrast, corneas infected with ΔpscD or ΔpscJ mutants that cannot assemble a type III secretion system, or with mutants lacking the translocator proteins, do not develop clinical disease, and bacteria are rapidly killed by infiltrating neutrophils. Furthermore, survival of PAO1 and PAK strains in the cornea and development of corneal disease was impaired in ΔexoS, ΔexoT, and ΔexoST mutants of both strains, but not in a ΔexoY mutant. ΔexoST mutants were also rapidly killed in neutrophils in vitro and were impaired in their ability to promote neutrophil apoptosis in vivo compared with PAO1. Point mutations in the ADP ribosyltransferase (ADPR) regions of ExoS or ExoT also impaired proapoptotic activity in infected neutrophils, and exoST(ADPR-) mutants replicated the ΔexoST phenotype in vitro and in vivo, whereas mutations in rho-GTPase-activating protein showed the same phenotype as PAO1. Together, these findings demonstrate that the pathogenesis of P. aeruginosa keratitis in ExoS- and ExoT-producing strains is almost entirely due to their ADPR activities, which subvert the host response by targeting the antibacterial activity of infiltrating neutrophils.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ADP Ribose Transferases / genetics
  • ADP Ribose Transferases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cornea / immunology
  • Cornea / microbiology
  • Cornea / pathology
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / genetics
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / metabolism*
  • Glucosyltransferases / biosynthesis
  • Keratitis / microbiology*
  • Keratitis / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / growth & development
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Secretion Systems
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • ExoT protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins
  • pseudomonas exoprotein A protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • ExoY protein, bacteria
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • ADP Ribose Transferases
  • exoenzyme S