Background: Vibrio vulnificus is a marine bacterial species that causes opportunistic infections manifested by serious skin lesions and fulminant septicemia in humans. We have previously shown that the multifunctional autoprocessing repeats in toxin (MARTXVv1) of a biotype 1 V. vulnificus strain promotes survival of this organism in the host by preventing it from engulfment by the phagocytes. The purpose of this study was to further explore how MARTXVv1 inhibits phagocytosis of this microorganism by the macrophage. Methods: We compared between a wild-type V. vulnificus strain and its MARTXVv1-deficient mutant for a variety of phagocytosis-related responses, including morphological change and activation of signaling molecules, they induced in the macrophage. We also characterized a set of MARTXVv1 domain-deletion mutants to define the regions associated with antiphagocytosis activity. Results: The RAW 264.7 cells and mouse peritoneal exudate macrophages underwent cell rounding accompanied by F-actin disorganization in the presence of MARTXVv1. In addition, phosphorylation of some F-actin rearrangement-associated signaling molecules, including Lyn, Fgr and Hck of the Src family kinases (SFKs), focal adhesion kinase (FAK), proline-rich tyrosine kinase 2 (Pyk2), phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) and Akt, but not p38, was decreased. By using specific inhibitors, we found that these kinases were all involved in the phagocytosis of MARTXVv1-deficient mutant in an order of SFKs-FAK/Pyk2-PI3K-Akt. Deletion of the effector domains in the central region of MARTXVv1 could lead to reduced cytotoxicity, depending on the region and size of deletion, but did not affect the antiphagocytosis activity and ability to cause rounding of macrophage. Reduced phosphorylation of Akt was closely associated with inhibition of phagocytosis by the wild-type strain and MARTXVv1 domain-deletion mutants, and expression of the constitutively active Akt, myr-Akt, enhanced the engulfment of these strains by macrophage. Conclusions: MARTXVv1 could inactivate the SFKs-FAK/Pyk2-PI3K-Akt signaling pathway in the macrophages. This might lead to impaired phagocytosis of the V. vulnificus-infected macrophage. The majority of the central region of MARTXVv1 is not associated with the antiphagocytosis activity.
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