Gliotoxin Induces Cofilin Phosphorylation to Promote Actin Cytoskeleton Dynamics and Internalization of Aspergillus fumigatus Into Type II Human Pneumocyte Cells

Front Microbiol. 2019 Jun 18;10:1345. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01345. eCollection 2019.


Aspergillus fumigatus is able to internalize into lung epithelial cells to escape from immune attack for further dissemination. We previously reported that gliotoxin, a major mycotoxin of A. fumigatus, promotes this internalization; however, the mechanism remained unclear. Here, we report that gliotoxin is able to induce cofilin phosphorylation in A549 type II human pneumocytes. Either too high or too low a level of cofilin phosphorylation blocked the gliotoxin-induced actin cytoskeleton rearrangement and A. fumigatus internalization. LIM domain kinase 1 (LIMK1) and its upstream small GTPases (Cdc42 and RhoA, but not Rac1) predominantly mediated the gliotoxin-induced cofilin phosphorylation and A. fumigatus internalization. Simultaneously, gliotoxin significantly stimulated an increase in cAMP; however, adding an antagonist of PKA did not block gliotoxin-induced A. fumigatus internalization. In vivo, exogenous gliotoxin helped gliotoxin synthesis deficient strain gliPΔ invade into the lung tissue and the lung fungal burden increased markedly in immunosuppressed mice. In conclusion, these data revealed a novel role of gliotoxin in inducing cofilin phosphorylation mostly through the Cdc42/RhoA-LIMK1 signaling pathway to promote actin cytoskeleton rearrangement and internalization of A. fumigatus into type II human pneumocytes.

Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; actin cytoskeleton rearrangement; cofilin; gliotoxin; human pneumocyte cells.