Decoy exosomes provide protection against bacterial toxins

Nature. 2020 Mar;579(7798):260-264. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2066-6. Epub 2020 Mar 4.


The production of pore-forming toxins that disrupt the plasma membrane of host cells is a common virulence strategy for bacterial pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)1-3. It is unclear, however, whether host species possess innate immune mechanisms that can neutralize pore-forming toxins during infection. We previously showed that the autophagy protein ATG16L1 is necessary for protection against MRSA strains encoding α-toxin4-a pore-forming toxin that binds the metalloprotease ADAM10 on the surface of a broad range of target cells and tissues2,5,6. Autophagy typically involves the targeting of cytosolic material to the lysosome for degradation. Here we demonstrate that ATG16L1 and other ATG proteins mediate protection against α-toxin through the release of ADAM10 on exosomes-extracellular vesicles of endosomal origin. Bacterial DNA and CpG DNA induce the secretion of ADAM10-bearing exosomes from human cells as well as in mice. Transferred exosomes protect host cells in vitro by serving as scavengers that can bind multiple toxins, and improve the survival of mice infected with MRSA in vivo. These findings indicate that ATG proteins mediate a previously unknown form of defence in response to infection, facilitating the release of exosomes that serve as decoys for bacterially produced toxins.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • ADAM10 Protein / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Autophagy-Related Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / pharmacology
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA, Bacterial / pharmacology
  • Exosomes / drug effects
  • Exosomes / metabolism*
  • Exosomes / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / pathogenicity
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Staphylococcal Infections / mortality


  • Atg16l1 protein, mouse
  • Autophagy-Related Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • ADAM10 Protein