Background & aims: Infection of epithelial cells with enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) induces phosphorylation of the 20-kilodalton myosin light chain (MLC20). The physiological consequence of this biochemical observation, however, has not been discerned. The aim of this study was to determine if EPEC-induced phosphorylation of MLC20 was involved in the associated perturbation of intestinal epithelial barrier function.
Methods: Cultured intestinal epithelial cells, T84, were infected with EPEC. The effects of protein kinase inhibitors on EPEC-induced perturbation of barrier function were assessed using electrophysiological techniques. Alterations in MLC20 phosphorylation were correlated with functional responses.
Results: Inhibition of myosin light chain kinase, but not protein kinase C or tyrosine kinase, prevented the decrease in resistance caused by EPEC infection and significantly diminished EPEC-induced MLC20 phosphorylation. Epithelial cell monolayers genetically manipulated to constitutively increase MLC20 phosphorylation were relatively resistant to the effects of EPEC on barrier function.
Conclusions: For the first time, these data show that a physiological consequence of the long-recognized increase in MLC20 phosphorylation by EPEC is perturbation of intestinal epithelial barrier function, which probably contributes to the diarrhea associated with this infection.