The Neisseria gonorrhoeae type IV pilus promotes resistance to hydrogen peroxide- and LL-37-mediated killing by modulating the availability of intracellular, labile iron

Linda I. Hu, Elizabeth A. Stohl, H. Steven Seifert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Neisseria gonorrhoeae Type IV pilus is a multifunctional, dynamic fiber involved in host cell attachment, DNA transformation, and twitching motility. We previously reported that the N. gonorrhoeae pilus is also required for resistance against hydrogen peroxide-, antimicrobial peptide LL-37-, and non-oxidative, neutrophil-mediated killing. We tested whether the hydrogen peroxide, LL-37, and neutrophil hypersensitivity phenotypes in non-piliated N. gonorrhoeae could be due to elevated iron levels. Iron chelation in the growth medium rescued a nonpiliated pilE mutant from both hydrogen peroxide- and antimicrobial peptide LL-37-mediated killing, suggesting these phenotypes are related to iron availability. We used the antibiotic streptonigrin, which depends on free cytoplasmic iron and oxidation to kill bacteria, to determine whether piliation affected intracellular iron levels. Several non-piliated, loss-of-function mutants were more sensitive to streptonigrin killing than the piliated parental strain. Consistent with the idea that higher available iron levels in the under- and non-piliated strains were responsible for the higher streptonigrin sensitivity, iron limitation by desferal chelation restored resistance to streptonigrin in these strains and the addition of iron restored the sensitivity to streptonigrin killing. The antioxidants tiron and dimethylthiourea rescued the pilE mutant from streptonigrin-mediated killing, suggesting that the elevated labile iron pool in non-piliated bacteria leads to streptonigrin-dependent reactive oxygen species production. These antioxidants did not affect LL-37-mediated killing. We confirmed that the pilE mutant is not more sensitive to other antibiotics showing that the streptonigrin phenotypes are not due to general bacterial envelope disruption. The total iron content of the cell was unaltered by piliation when measured using ICP-MS suggesting that only the labile iron pool is affected by piliation. These results support the hypothesis that piliation state affects N. gonorrhoeae iron homeostasis and influences sensitivity to various host-derived antimicrobial agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1010561
JournalPLoS pathogens
Volume18
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Virology
  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology

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