Novel pathomechanism for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis: disruption of cell junctions by cellular and bacterial proteases.

Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) is a life-threatening complication of liver cirrhosis with a 1-year mortality of 66%. Bacterial translocation (BT) from the intestine to the mesenteric lymph nodes is crucial for the pathogenesis of SBP.Since BT presupposes a leaky intestinal epithelium, the integrity of mucus and epithelial cell junctions (E-cadherin and occludin) was examined in colonic biopsies from patients with liver cirrhosis and controls. SBP-inducing Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Proteus mirabilis (P. mirabilis) were isolated from ascites of patients with liver cirrhosis and co-cultured with Caco-2 cells to characterise bacteria-to-cell effects.SBP-derived E. coli and P. mirabilis led to a marked reduction of cell-to-cell junctions in a dose-dependent and time-dependent manner. This effect was enhanced by a direct interaction of live bacteria with epithelial cells. Degradation of occludin is mediated via increased ubiquitination by the proteasome. Remarkably, a novel bacterial protease activity is of pivotal importance for the cleavage of E-cadherin.Patients with liver cirrhosis show a reduced thickness of colonic mucus, which allows bacteria-to-epithelial cell contact. Intestinal bacteria induce degradation of occludin by exploiting the proteasome of epithelial cells. We identified a novel bacterial protease activity of patient-derived SBP-inducing bacteria, which is responsible for the cleavage of E-cadherin structures. Inhibition of this protease activity leads to stabilisation of cell junctions. Thus, targeting these mechanisms by blocking the ubiquitin-proteasome system and/or the bacterial protease activity might interfere with BT and constitute a novel innovative therapeutic strategy to prevent SBP in patients with liver cirrhosis.

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Authors: Marika Haderer, Philip Neubert, Eva Rinner, Annika Scholtis, Lucile Broncy, Heidi Gschwendtner, Arne Kandulski, Vlad Pavel, Alexander Mehrl, Christoph Brochhausen, Sophie Schlosser, Karsten Gülow, Claudia Kunst, Martina Müller