, Volume 61, Issue 22, pp 2859-2865

Anthrax lethal toxin: a weapon of multisystem destruction

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Abstract.

Lethal toxin (LT) is a major virulence factor secreted by anthrax bacteria. It is composed of two proteins, PA (protective antigen) and LF (lethal factor). PA transports the LF inside the cell, where LF, a zinc-dependent metalloprotease cleaves the mitogen activated protein kinase kinase (MAPKK) enzymes of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway, thereby impairing their function. This disruption of the MAPK pathway, which serves essential functions such as proliferation, survival and inflammation in all cell types, results in multisystem dysfunction in the host. The inactivation of the MAPK pathway in both macrophages and dendritic cells leads to inhibition of proinflammatory cytokine secretion, downregulation of costimulatory molecules such as CD80 and CD86, and ineffective T cell priming. The net result is an impaired innate and adaptive immune response. Endothelial cells of the vascular system undergo apoptosis upon LT exposure, also likely due to inactivation of the MAPK pathway. The activity of various hormone receptors such as glucocorticoids, progesterone and estrogen is also blocked, due to inhibition of p38 MAPK phosphorylation, thus affecting the body’s response to stress. The present review summarizes the various disarming effects of Bacillus anthracis through the use of a single weapon, the lethal toxin.

Received 12 June 2004; received after revision 13 July 2004; accepted 28 July 2004