The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa can infect almost any site in the body but most often targets epithelial cell-lined tissues such as the airways, skin, and the cornea of the eye. A common predisposing factor is cystic fibrosis (CF), caused by defects in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane-conductance regulator (CFTR). Previously, we showed that when P. aeruginosa enters epithelial cells it replicates intracellularly and occupies plasma membrane blebs. This phenotype is dependent on the type 3 secretion system (T3SS) effector ExoS, shown by others to induce host cell apoptosis. Here, we examined mechanisms for P. aeruginosa-induced bleb formation, focusing on its relationship to apoptosis and the CFTR. The data showed that P. aeruginosa-induced blebbing in epithelial cells is independent of actin contraction and is inhibited by hyperosmotic media (400 to 600 mOsM), distinguishing bacterially induced blebs from apoptotic blebs. Cells with defective CFTR displayed enhanced bleb formation upon infection, as demonstrated using bronchial epithelial cells from a patient with cystic fibrosis and a CFTR inhibitor, CFTR(Inh)-172. The defect was found to be correctable either by incubation in hyperosmotic media or by complementation with CFTR (pGFP-CFTR), suggesting that the osmoregulatory function of CFTR counters P. aeruginosa-induced bleb-niche formation. Accordingly, and despite their reduced capacity for bacterial internalization, CFTR-deficient cells showed greater bacterial occupation of blebs and enhanced intracellular replication. Together, these data suggest that P. aeruginosa bleb niches are distinct from apoptotic blebs, are driven by osmotic forces countered by CFTR, and could provide a novel mechanism for bacterial persistence in the host. IMPORTANCE Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen problematic in hospitalized patients and those with cystic fibrosis (CF). Previously, we showed that P. aeruginosa can enter epithelial cells and replicate within them and traffics to the membrane blebs that it induces. This “bleb-niche” formation requires ExoS, previously shown to cause apoptosis. Here, we show that the driving force for bleb-niche formation is osmotic pressure, differentiating P. aeruginosa-induced blebs from apoptotic blebs. Either CFTR inhibition or CFTR mutation (as seen in people with CF) causes P. aeruginosa to make more bleb niches and provides an osmotic driving force for blebbing. CFTR inhibition also enhances bacterial occupation of blebs and intracellular replication. Since CFTR is targeted for removal from the plasma membrane when P. aeruginosa invades a healthy cell, these findings could relate to pathogenesis in both CF and healthy patient populations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas