Research Papers: Autophagy and Cell Death:

Streptococcus pneumoniae induces pyroptosis through the regulation of autophagy in murine microglia

Ji-Yun Kim, James C. Paton, David E. Briles, Dong-Kwon Rhee and Suhkneung Pyo _

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:44161-44178. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.6592

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Ji-Yun Kim1, James C. Paton2, David E. Briles3,4,5, Dong-Kwon Rhee1 and Suhkneung Pyo1

1 School of Pharmacy, Sungkyunkwan University, Suwon, Kyunggi-do, Republic of Korea

2 School of Molecular and Biomedical Science, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

3 Department of Microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

4 Department of Genetics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

5 Department of Pediatrics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

Correspondence to:

Suhkneung Pyo, email:

Keywords: S. pneumoniae, microglia, pyroptosis, autophagy, pneumolysin

Received: July 29, 2015 Accepted: November 26, 2015 Published: December 13, 2015


Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for significant mortality and morbidity worldwide and causes invasive pneumococcal diseases including pneumococcal meningitis. Pyroptosis is caspase-1-dependent inflammatory cell death and is known to be induced by various microbial infections. In the present study, we investigated the molecular mechanisms that regulate pyroptosis induced by S. pneumoniae in microglia. Our results revealed that S. pneumoniae induced pyroptosis through caspase-1 activation and IL-1β production. We also found that the activation of caspase-1 and the maturation of IL-1β and IL-18 in the S. pneumoniae-triggered pyroptotic cell death process were mediated by NLRP3 inflammasome. In addition, pneumococcal infection increased the expression of autophagy-related genes and induced autophagosome formation. We also showed that the inhibition of autophagy promoted pneumococcus-induced pyroptosis. Furthermore, ROS was generated by pneumococcal infection and inhibited caspase-1 activation within 4 h of infection. However, in the late phase of infection, IL-1β secretion and caspase-1-dependent cell death were induced by ROS. These results suggest that autophagy induction transiently delay pyroptosis induced by S. pneumoniae in microglia. Our study also revealed that the activation of caspase-1 and the production of IL-1β were induced by pneumolysin and that pneumolysin triggered pyroptosis in microglial cells. Similar to the in vitro results, S. pneumoniae induced caspase-1 activation and caspase-1-dependent cytokine maturation in the mouse meningitis model. Thus, the present data demonstrate that S. pneumoniae induces pyroptosis in murine microglia and that NLRP3 inflammasome is critical for caspase-1 activation during the process. Furthermore, the induction of autophagy could transiently protect microglia from pyroptosis.

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