Mini-review: novel therapeutic strategies to blunt actions of pneumolysin in the lungs

Toxins (Basel). 2013 Jul 15;5(7):1244-60. doi: 10.3390/toxins5071244.


Severe pneumonia is the main single cause of death worldwide in children under five years of age. The main etiological agent of pneumonia is the G+ bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which accounts for up to 45% of all cases. Intriguingly, patients can still die days after commencing antibiotic treatment due to the development of permeability edema, although the pathogen was successfully cleared from their lungs. This condition is characterized by a dramatically impaired alveolar epithelial-capillary barrier function and a dysfunction of the sodium transporters required for edema reabsorption, including the apically expressed epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) and the basolaterally expressed sodium potassium pump (Na+-K+-ATPase). The main agent inducing this edema formation is the virulence factor pneumolysin, a cholesterol-binding pore-forming toxin, released in the alveolar compartment of the lungs when pneumococci are being lysed by antibiotic treatment or upon autolysis. Sub-lytic concentrations of pneumolysin can cause endothelial barrier dysfunction and can impair ENaC-mediated sodium uptake in type II alveolar epithelial cells. These events significantly contribute to the formation of permeability edema, for which currently no standard therapy is available. This review focuses on discussing some recent developments in the search for the novel therapeutic agents able to improve lung function despite the presence of pore-forming toxins. Such treatments could reduce the potentially lethal complications occurring after antibiotic treatment of patients with severe pneumonia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / toxicity
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Growth Hormone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / microbiology
  • Lectins / therapeutic use
  • Lung / microbiology*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Pneumonia / microbiology
  • Pneumonia / therapy*
  • Pulmonary Edema / microbiology
  • Pulmonary Edema / therapy
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / pathogenicity*
  • Streptolysins / toxicity*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Virulence Factors


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Lectins
  • Streptolysins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Virulence Factors
  • plY protein, Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Growth Hormone