Streptococcus pneumoniae frequently colonizes the upper respiratory tract of healthy individuals, but also commonly causes severe invasive infections such as community-acquired pneumonia and meningitis. One of the key virulence factors of pneumococci is the pore-forming toxin pneumolysin which stimulates cell death and is involved in the evasion of some defense mechanisms. The immune system, however, employs different inflammasomes to sense pneumolysin-induced pore formation, cellular membrane damage, and/or subsequent leakage of bacterial nucleic acid into the host cell cytosol. Canonical inflammasomes are cytosolic multiprotein complexes consisting of a receptor molecule such as NLRP3 or AIM2, the adapter ASC, and caspase-1. NLRP3 and AIM2 inflammasomes mediate cell death and production of important IL-1 family cytokines to recruit leukocytes and defend against S. pneumoniae. Here, we review recent evidence that highlights inflammasomes as critical sensors of S. pneumoniae-induced cellular perturbations, summarize their role in pneumococcal infections, and discuss potential evasion strategies of some emerging pneumococcal strains.
Keywords: Inflammasome; Innate immunity; Pneumonia; Streptococcus pneumoniae.