Bacillus anthracis is killed by the interferon-inducible, ELR(−) CXC chemokine CXCL10. Previous studies showed that disruption of the gene encoding FtsX, a conserved membrane component of the ATP-binding cassette transporter-like complex FtsE/X, resulted in resistance to CXCL10. FtsX exhibits some sequence similarity to the mammalian CXCL10 receptor, CXCR3, suggesting that the CXCL10 N-terminal region that interacts with CXCR3 may also interact with FtsX. A C-terminal truncated CXCL10 was tested to determine if the FtsX-dependent antimicrobial activity is associated with the CXCR3-interacting N terminus. The truncated CXCL10 exhibited antimicrobial activity against the B. anthracis parent strain but not the Δ ftsX mutant, which supports a key role for the CXCL10 N terminus. Mutations in FtsE, the conserved ATP-binding protein of the FtsE/X complex, resulted in resistance to both CXCL10 and truncated CXCL10, indicating that both FtsX and FtsE are important. Higher concentrations of CXCL10 overcame the resistance of the Δ ftsX mutant to CXCL10, suggesting an FtsX-independent killing mechanism, likely involving its C-terminal α-helix, which resembles a cationic antimicrobial peptide. Membrane depolarization studies revealed that CXCL10 disrupted membranes of the B. anthracis parent strain and the Δ ftsX mutant, but only the parent strain underwent depolarization with truncated CXCL10. These findings suggest that CXCL10 is a bifunctional molecule that kills B. anthracis by two mechanisms. FtsE/X-dependent killing is mediated through an N-terminal portion of CXCL10 and is not reliant upon the C-terminal α-helix. The FtsE/X-independent mechanism involves membrane depolarization by CXCL10, likely because of its α-helix. These findings present a new paradigm for understanding mechanisms by which CXCL10 and related chemokines kill bacteria. IMPORTANCE Chemokines are a class of molecules known for their chemoattractant properties but more recently have been shown to possess antimicrobial activity against a wide range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacterial pathogens. The mechanism(s) by which these chemokines kill bacteria is not well understood, but it is generally thought to be due to the conserved amphipathic C-terminal α-helix that resembles cationic antimicrobial peptides in charge and secondary structure. Our present study indicates that the interferon-inducible, ELR(−) chemokine CXCL10 kills the Gram-positive pathogen Bacillus anthracis through multiple molecular mechanisms. One mechanism is mediated by interaction of CXCL10 with the bacterial FtsE/X complex and does not require the presence of the CXCL10 C-terminal α-helix. The second mechanism is FtsE/X receptor independent and kills through membrane disruption due to the C-terminal α-helix. This study represents a new paradigm for understanding how chemokines exert an antimicrobial effect that may prove applicable to other bacterial species.
Margulieux, K. R., Fox, J. W., Nakamoto, R. K., & Hughes, M. A. (2016). CXCL10 Acts as a Bifunctional Antimicrobial Molecule against Bacillus anthracis . MBio, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.1128/mbio.00334-16