VacA is a secreted pore-forming toxin that induces cell vacuolation and contributes to the pathogenesis of gastric cancer and peptic ulcer disease. We observed that purified VacA has relatively little effect on the viability of AGS gastric epithelial cells, but the presence of exogenous weak bases such as ammonium chloride (NHCl) enhances the susceptibility of these cells to VacA-induced vacuolation and cell death. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that NHCl augments VacA toxicity by altering the intracellular trafficking of VacA or inhibiting intracellular VacA degradation. We observed VacA colocalization with LAMP1- and LC3-positive vesicles in both the presence and absence of NHCl, indicating that NHCl does not alter VacA trafficking to lysosomes or autophagosomes. Conversely, we found that supplemental NHCl significantly increases the intracellular stability of VacA. By conducting experiments using chemical inhibitors, stable ATG5 knockdown cell lines, and ATG16L1 knockout cells (generated using CRISPR/Cas9), we show that VacA degradation is independent of autophagy and proteasome activity but dependent on lysosomal acidification. We conclude that weak bases like ammonia, potentially generated during infection by urease and other enzymes, enhance VacA toxicity by inhibiting toxin degradation.
Copyright © 2019 American Society for Microbiology.