Rickettsiae induce microvascular hyperpermeability via phosphorylation of ve-cadherins: Evidence from atomic force microscopy and biochemical studies

Bin Gong, Liang Ma, Yan Liu, Qinyu Gong, Thomas Shelite, Donald Bouyer, Paul J. Boor, Yong Sun Lee, Andres Oberhauser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The most prominent pathophysiological effect of spotted fever group (SFG) rickettsial infection of microvascular endothelial cells (ECs) is an enhanced vascular permeability, promoting vasogenic cerebral edema and non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, which are responsible for most of the morbidity and mortality in severe cases. To date, the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which SFG Rickettsia increase EC permeability are largely unknown. In the present study we used atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the interactive forces between vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin and human cerebral microvascular EC infected with R. montanensis, which is genetically similar to R. rickettsii and R. conorii, and displays a similar ability to invade cells, but is non-pathogenic and can be experimentally manipulated under Biosafety Level 2 (BSL2) conditions. We found that infected ECs show a significant decrease in VE-cadherin-EC interactions. In addition, we applied immunofluorescent staining, immunoprecipitation phosphorylation assay, and an in vitro endothelial permeability assay to study the biochemical mechanisms that may participate in the enhanced vascular permeability as an underlying pathologic alteration of SFG rickettsial infection. A major finding is that infection of R. montanensis significantly activated tyrosine phosphorylation of VE-cadherin beginning at 48 hr and reaching a peak at 72 hr p.i. In vitro permeability assay showed an enhanced microvascular permeability at 72 hr p.i. On the other hand, AFM experiments showed a dramatic reduction in VE-cadherin-EC interactive forces at 48 hr p.i. We conclude that upon infection by SFG rickettsiae, phosphorylation of VE-cadherin directly attenuates homophilic protein-protein interactions at the endothelial adherens junctions, and may lead to endothelial paracellular barrier dysfunction causing microvascular hyperpermeability. These new approaches should prove useful in characterizing the antigenically related SFG rickettsiae R. conorii and R. rickettsii in a BSL3 environment. Future studies may lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies to inhibit the VE-cadherin-associated microvascular hyperpermeability in SFG rickettsioses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1699
JournalPLoS neglected tropical diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Rickettsiae induce microvascular hyperpermeability via phosphorylation of ve-cadherins: Evidence from atomic force microscopy and biochemical studies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this