Alpha toxin from Clostridium perfringens induces proinflammatory changes in endothelial cells

J Clin Invest. 1997 Aug 1;100(3):565-74. doi: 10.1172/JCI119566.


Alpha toxin from Clostridium perfringens type A, a phospholipase C, has been implicated in many of the localized and systemic features of gas gangrene. We demonstrated that human endothelial cells synthesize two vasoactive lipids, platelet-activating factor (PAF) and prostacyclin, in response to alpha toxin treatment. The stimulated synthesis of PAF required the enzymatic activity of the toxin and subsequent protein kinase C activation. Alpha toxin-treated endothelial cells accumulated the products of the phospholipase C reaction, diacylglycerol and ceramide, and exhibited a decrease in the enzymatic precursors phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin. Furthermore, the temporal accumulation of PAF depended on the concentration of the toxin in the overlying medium and was blocked in the presence of a neutralizing antibody. The cultured endothelial cells also exhibited enhanced neutrophil adhesion in response to alpha toxin which was mediated through the PAF receptor and P-selectin. P-selectin expression by endothelial cells and extravascular neutrophil accumulation were also observed in tissue sections from alpha toxin-injected Sprague-Dawley rats. These endothelial cell-mediated processes are important in maintaining vascular homeostasis and, when activated in a dysregulated manner by C. perfringens alpha toxin, may contribute to localized and systemic manifestations of gas gangrene including enhanced vascular permeability, localized neutrophil accumulation, and myocardial dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Clostridium perfringens*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Epoprostenol / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / chemically induced*
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Neutrophils / pathology
  • Platelet Activating Factor / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Type C Phospholipases / toxicity*


  • Platelet Activating Factor
  • Epoprostenol
  • Type C Phospholipases