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Title: Host stress hormone norepinephrine stimulates pneumococcal growth, biofilm formation and virulence gene expression.
Authors: Freestone, Primrose P. E.
Sandrini, Sara
Alghofaili, Fayez
Yesilkaya, Hasan
First Published: 4-Jul-2014
Publisher: BioMed Central
Citation: BMC Microbiology, 2014, 14 : 180
Abstract: Background: Host signals are being shown to have a major impact on the bacterial phenotype. One of them is the endogenously produced catecholamine stress hormones, which are also used therapeutically as inotropes. Recent work form our laboratories have found that stress hormones can markedly increase bacterial growth and virulence. This report reveals that Streptococcus pneumoniae, a commensal that can also be a major cause of community acquired and nosocomial pneumonia, is highly inotrope responsive. Therapeutic levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine increased pneumococcal growth via a mechanism involving provision of iron from serum-transferrin and inotrope uptake, as well as enhancing expression of key genes in central metabolism and virulence. Collectively, our data suggests that Streptococcus pneumoniae recognises host stress as an environmental cue to initiate growth and pathogenic processes. Results: Effects of a clinically attainable concentration of norepinephrine on S. pneumoniae pathogenicity were explored using in vitro growth and virulence assays, and RT-PCR gene expression profiling of genes involved in metabolism and virulence. We found that norepinephrine was a potent stimulator of growth, via a mechanism involving norepinephrine-delivery of transferrin-iron and internalisation of the inotrope. Stress hormone exposure also markedly increased biofilm formation. Importantly, gene profiling showed that norepinephrine significantly enhanced expression of genes involved in central metabolism and host colonisation. Analysis of the response of the pneumococcal pspA and pspC mutants to the stress hormone showed them to have a central involvement in the catecholamine response mechanism. Conclusions: Collectively, our evidence suggests that the pneumococcus has mechanisms to recognise and process host stress hormones to augment its virulence properties. The ability to respond to host stress signals may be important for the pneumococcal transition from colonization to invasion mode, which is key to its capacity to cause life-threatening pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis.
DOI Link: 10.1186/1471-2180-14-180
ISSN: 1471-2180
Version: Publisher Version
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © 2014 Sandrini et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation

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