An investigation of the molecular interactions between statins and bacterial pathogens, and their combined impact on the human immune system

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Hennessy, Emma Elizabeth Clare
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University College Cork
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Statins are a class of drug that inhibits cholesterol biosynthesis, and are used to treat patients with high serum cholesterol levels. They exert this function by competitively binding to the enzyme 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoenzymeA reductase (HMGR), which catalyses the formation of mevalonate, a rate-limiting step in cholesterol biosynthesis. In addition, statins have what are called “pleiotropic effects”, which include the reduction of inflammation, immunomodulation, and antimicrobial effects. Statins can also improve survival of patients with sepsis and pneumonia. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common recessive inherited disease in the Caucasian population, which is characterised by factors including, but not limited to, excessive lung inflammation and increased susceptibility to infection. Therefore, the overall objective of this study was to examine the effects of statins on CFassociated bacterial pathogens and the host response. In this work, the prevalence of HMGR was examined in respiratory pathogens, and several CF-associated pathogens were found to possess homologues of this enzyme. HMGR homology was analysed in Staphylococcus aureus, Burkholderia cenocepacia and Streptococcus pneumoniae, and the HMGR of B. cenocepacia was found to have significant conservation to that of Pseudomonas mevalonii, which is the most widely-characterised bacterial HMGR. However, in silico analysis revealed that, unlike S. aureus and S. pneumoniae, B. cenocepacia did not possess homologues of other mevalonate pathway proteins, and that the HMGR of B. cenocepacia appeared to be involved in an alternative metabolic pathway. The effect of simvastatin was subsequently tested on the growth and virulence of S. aureus, B. cenocepacia and S. pneumoniae. Simvastatin inhibited the growth of all 3 species in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, statin treatment also attenuated biofilm formation of all 3 species, and reduced in vitro motility of S. aureus. Interestingly, simvastatin also increased the potency of the aminoglycoside antibiotic gentamicin against B. cenocepacia. The impact of statins was subsequently tested on the predominant CF-associated pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which does not possess a HMGR homologue. Mevastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin did not influence the growth of this species. However, sub-inhibitory statin concentrations reduced the swarming motility and biofilm formation of P. aeruginosa. The influence of statins was also examined on Type 3 toxin secretion, quorum sensing and chemotaxis, and no statin effect was observed on any of these phenotypes. Statins did not appear to have a characteristic effect on the P. aeruginosa transcriptome. However, a mutant library screen revealed that the effect of statins on P. aeruginosa biofilm was mediated through the PvrR regulator and the Cup fimbrial biosynthesis genes. Furthermore, proteomic analysis demonstrated that 6 proteins were reproducibly induced by simvastatin in the P. aeruginosa swarming cells. The effect of statins on the regulation of the host-P. aeruginosa immune response was also investigated. Statin treatment increased expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-8 and CCL20 in lung epithelial cells, but did not attenuate P. aeruginosa-mediated inflammatory gene induction. In fact, simvastatin and P. aeruginosa caused a synergistic effect on CCL20 expression. The expression of the transcriptional regulators KLF2 and KLF6 was also increased by statins and P. aeruginosa, with the induction of KLF6 by simvastatin proving to be a novel effect. Interestingly, both statins and P. aeruginosa were capable of inducing alternative splicing of KLF6. P. aeruginosa was found to induce KLF6 alternative splicing by way of the type 3 secreted toxin ExoS. In addition, a mechanistic role was elucidated for KLF6 in the lung, as it was determined that statin-mediated induction of this protein was responsible for the induction of the host response genes CCL20 and iNOS. Moreover, statin treatment caused a slight increase in infection-related cytotoxicity, and increased bacterial adhesion to cells. Taken together, these data demonstrate that statins can reduce the virulence of CFassociated bacterial pathogens and alter host response effectors. Furthermore, novel statin effectors were identified in both bacterial and host cells.
Statins , Pseudomonas aeruginosa , Lung cells , Inflammation , Cystic fibrosis , Host immune effectors
Hennessy, E .E. C. 2014. An investigation of the molecular interactions between statins and bacterial pathogens, and their combined impact on the human immune system. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.