Infectious microbes face an unwelcoming environment in their mammalian hosts, which have evolved elaborate multicelluar systems for recognition and elimination of invading pathogens. A common strategy used by pathogenic bacteria to establish infection is to secrete protein factors that block intracellular signalling pathways essential for host defence. Some of these proteins also act as toxins, directly causing pathology associated with disease. Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, secretes two plasmid-encoded enzymes, LF (lethal factor) and EF (oedema factor), that are delivered into host cells by a third bacterial protein, PA (protective antigen). The two toxins act on a variety of cell types, disabling the immune system and inevitably killing the host. LF is an extraordinarily selective metalloproteinase that site-specifically cleaves MKKs (mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases). Cleavage of MKKs by LF prevents them from activating their downstream MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) substrates by disrupting a critical docking interaction. Blockade of MAPK signalling functionally impairs cells of both the innate and adaptive immune systems and induces cell death in macrophages. EF is an adenylate cyclase that is activated by calmodulin through a non-canonical mechanism. EF causes sustained and potent activation of host cAMP-dependent signalling pathways, which disables phagocytes. Here I review recent progress in elucidating the mechanisms by which LF and EF influence host signalling and thereby contribute to disease.

You do not currently have access to this content.