Differential modulation of pulmonary caspases: Is this the key to Ureaplasma-driven chronic inflammation?

PLoS One. 2019 May 8;14(5):e0216569. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216569. eCollection 2019.


Although accepted agents in chorioamnionitis and preterm birth, the role of Ureaplasma species (spp.) in inflammation-driven morbidities of prematurity, including the development of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, remains controversial. To add to scarce in vitro data addressing the pro-inflammatory capacity of Ureaplasma spp., pulmonary epithelial-like A549 cells and human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells (HPMEC) were incubated with Ureaplasma (U.) urealyticum, U. parvum, and Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Ureaplasma isolates down-regulated caspase mRNA levels in A549 cells (caspase 8: p<0.001, 9: p<0.001, vs. broth), while increasing caspase protein expression, enzyme activity, and cell death in HPMEC (active caspase 3: p<0.05, caspase 8: p<0.05, active caspase 9: p<0.05, viability: p<0.05). LPS, contrarily, induced caspase mRNA expression in HPMEC (caspase 3: p<0.01, 4: p<0.001, 5: p<0.001, 8: p<0.001, vs. control), but not in A549 cells, and did not affect enzyme activity or protein levels in either cell line. LPS, but neither Ureaplasma isolate, enhanced mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory interleukin (IL)-6 in both A549 (p<0.05, vs. control) and HPMEC (p<0.001) as well as tumor necrosis factor-α (p<0.01), IL-1β (p<0.001), and IL-8 (p<0.05) in HPMEC. We are therefore the first to demonstrate a differential modulation of pulmonary caspases by Ureaplasma spp. in vitro. Ureaplasma-driven enhanced protein expression and activity of caspases in pulmonary endothelial cells result in cell death and may cause structural damage. Down-regulated caspase mRNA in pulmonary epithelial cells, contrarily, may indicate Ureaplasma-induced inhibition of apoptosis and prevent effective immune responses. Both may ultimately contribute to chronic Ureaplasma colonization and long-term pulmonary inflammation.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / enzymology*
  • Epithelial Cells / enzymology*
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia / enzymology
  • Pneumonia / etiology*
  • Pneumonia / pathology
  • Ureaplasma / isolation & purification
  • Ureaplasma Infections / complications*


  • Cytokines
  • Caspases

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.