Acinetobacter calcoaceticus-baumannii complex strains induce caspase-dependent and caspase-independent death of human epithelial cells

Curr Microbiol. 2012 Sep;65(3):319-29. doi: 10.1007/s00284-012-0159-7. Epub 2012 Jun 9.


We investigated interactions of human isolates of Acinetobacter calcoaceticus-baumannii complex strains with epithelial cells. The results showed that bacterial contact with the cells as well as adhesion and invasion were required for induction of cytotoxicity. The infected cells revealed hallmarks of apoptosis characterized by cell shrinking, condensed chromatin, and internucleosomal fragmentation of nuclear DNA. The highest apoptotic index was observed for 4 of 10 A. calcoaceticus and 4 of 7 A. baumannii strains. Moreover, we observed oncotic changes: cellular swelling and blebbing, noncondensed chromatin, and the absence of DNA fragmentation. The highest oncotic index was observed in cells infected with 6 A. calcoaceticus isolates. Cell-contact cytotoxicity and cell death were not inhibited by the pan-caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk. Induction of oncosis was correlated with increased invasive ability of the strains. We demonstrated that the mitochondria of infected cells undergo structural and functional alterations which can lead to cell death. Infected apoptotic and oncotic cells exhibited loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential (ΔΨ(m)). Bacterial infection caused generation of nitric oxide and reactive oxygen species. This study indicated that Acinetobacter spp. induced strain-dependent distinct types of epithelial cell death that may contribute to the pathogenesis of bacterial infection.

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter Infections / enzymology*
  • Acinetobacter Infections / metabolism
  • Acinetobacter Infections / microbiology
  • Acinetobacter Infections / pathology*
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / pathogenicity*
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / physiology
  • Acinetobacter calcoaceticus / pathogenicity*
  • Acinetobacter calcoaceticus / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Bacterial Adhesion / physiology
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / physiology
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Caspases