The contribution of Clostridium difficile toxin A and B (TcdA and TcdB) to cellular intoxication has been studied extensively, but their impact on bacterial colonization remains unclear. By setting up 2- and 3-dimensional in vitro models of polarized gut epithelium, we investigated how C. difficile infection is affected by host cell polarity and whether TcdA and TcdB contribute to such events. Indeed, we observed that C. difficile adhesion and penetration of the mucosal barrier are substantially enhanced in poorly polarized or ethylene glycol tetraacetic acid-treated cells, indicating that bacteria bind preferentially to the basolateral (BL) cell surface. In this context, we demonstrated that sub-lethal concentrations of C. difficile TcdA are able to alter cell polarity by causing redistribution of plasma membrane components between distinct surface domains. Taken together, the data suggest that toxin-mediated modulation of host cell organization may account for the capacity of this opportunistic pathogen to gain access to BL receptors, leading to a successful colonization of the colonic mucosa.
Keywords: C. difficile; adhesion; cell polarity; toxins.