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Pulmonary permeability edema is characterized by reduced alveolar Na⁺ uptake capacity and capillary barrier dysfunction and is a potentially lethal complication of listeriosis. Apical Na⁺ uptake is mainly mediated by the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) and initiates alveolar liquid clearance. Here we examine how listeriolysin O (LLO), the pore-forming toxin of Listeria monocytogenes, impairs the expression and activity of ENaC. To that purpose, we studied how sub-lytic concentrations of LLO affect negative and positive regulators of ENaC expression in the H441 airway epithelial cell line. LLO reduced expression of the crucial ENaC-α subunit in H441 cells within 2 h and this was preceded by activation of PKC-α, a negative regulator of the channel's expression. At later time points, LLO caused a significant reduction in the phosphorylation of Sgk-1 at residue T256 and of Akt-1 at residue S473, both of which are required for full activation of ENaC. The TNF-derived TIP peptide prevented LLO-mediated PKC-α activation and restored phospho-Sgk-1-T256. The TIP peptide also counteracted the observed LLO-induced decrease in amiloride-sensitive Na⁺ current and ENaC-α expression in H441 cells. Intratracheally instilled LLO caused profound pulmonary edema formation in mice, an effect that was prevented by the TIP peptide; thus indicating the therapeutic potential of the peptide for the treatment of pore-forming toxin-associated permeability edema.

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This article was published in Toxins, Volume 10, Issue 2.

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