Potential dissemination of Bacillus anthracis utilizing human lung epithelial cells Academic Article uri icon


  • Dissemination of Bacillus anthracis spores from the lung is a critical early event in the establishment of inhalational anthrax. We recently reported that B. anthracis could adhere to and be internalized by cultured intestinal epithelial and fibroblast cells. Here, using gentamicin protection assays and/or electron microscopy, we found that Sterne strain 7702 spores were able to adhere to and subsequently be internalized by polarized A549 cells and primary human small airway epithelial cells. We showed for the first time that internalized spores were able to survive and that spores could translocate across an A549 cell barrier from the apical side to the basolateral side without disrupting the barrier integrity, suggesting a transcellular route. In addition, dormant spores of fully virulent Ames and UT500 strains were able to adhere to A549 cells at a frequency similar to that of 7702, whereas the capsule in germinated Ames and UT500 spores prevented adherence. Fluorescence microscopy also revealed that dormant Ames spores were internalized at a frequency similar to that of 7702. These findings highlight the possibility of a novel route of dissemination in which B. anthracis utilizes epithelial cells of the lung. The implications of these results to B. anthracis pathogenesis are discussed.

published proceedings

  • Cell Microbiol

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Russell, B. H., Vasan, R., Keene, D. R., Koehler, T. M., & Xu, Y. i.

citation count

  • 46

complete list of authors

  • Russell, Brooke H||Vasan, Ranga||Keene, Douglas R||Koehler, Theresa M||Xu, Yi

publication date

  • January 2008