VEGF-Mediated Augmentation of Autophagic and Lysosomal Activity in Endothelial Cells Defends against Intracellular Streptococcus pyogenes

Takeshi NODA, Shiou-Ling Lu, Center for Frontier Oral Science, Graduate School of Dentistry

Group A Streptococcus (GAS), a deleterious human-pathogenic bacterium, causes life-threatening diseases such as sepsis and necrotic fasciitis. We recently reported that GAS survives and replicates within blood vessel endothelial cells because these cells are intrinsically defective in xenophagy. Because blood vessel endothelial cells are relatively germfree environments, specific stimulation may be required to sufficiently induce xenophagy. Here, we explored how vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) promoted xenophagy and lysosomal activity in endothelial cells. These effects were achieved by amplifying the activation of TFEB, a transcriptional factor crucial for lysosome/autophagy biogenesis, via cAMP-mediated calcium release. In a mouse model of local infection with GAS, the VEGF level was significantly elevated at the infection site. Interestingly, low serum VEGF levels were found in a mouse model of invasive bacteremia and in patients with severe GAS-induced sepsis. Moreover, the administration of VEGF improved the survival of GAS-infected mice. We propose a novel theory regarding GAS infection in endothelial cells, wherein VEGF concentrations in the systemic circulation play a critical role.
IMPORTANCE Sepsis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes is a life-threatening condition. Blood vessel endothelial cells should serve as a barrier to infection, although we recently reported that endothelial cells allow intracellular GAS proliferation due to defective xenophagy. In this study, we revealed that administration of VEGF augmented both xenophagy and lysosomal activity in these cells, leading to the efficient killing of intracellular GAS. By comparison, the opposite relationship was observed in vivo, as low serum VEGF concentrations were accompanied by high-severity sepsis in both a mouse model and in human patients. Administration of VEGF reduced mortality in the GAS sepsis model. Based on these findings, we hypothesize that during acute infection, strong VEGF stimulation boosts the intracellular defense system of the endothelium to provide a stronger blood vessel barrier, thereby helping to prevent bacterial dissemination.

The article was published on 5 July,2022 in mBio.