Debernardi J, et al. Toxins (Basel) 2020.
Shiga toxins (Stxs) expressed by the enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli and enteric Shigella dysenteriae 1 pathogens are protein synthesis inhibitors. Stxs have been shown to induce apoptosis via the activation of extrinsic and intrinsic pathways in many cell types (epithelial, endothelial, and B cells) but the link between the protein synthesis inhibition and caspase activation is still unclear. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress induced by the inhibition of protein synthesis may be this missing link. Here, we show that the treatment of Burkitt lymphoma (BL) cells with verotoxin-1 (VT-1 or Stx1) consistently induced the ER stress response by activation of IRE1 and ATF6-two ER stress sensors-followed by increased expression of the transcription factor C/REB homologous protein (CHOP). However, our data suggest that, although ER stress is systematically induced by VT-1 in BL cells, its role in cell death appears to be cell specific and can be the opposite: ER stress may enhance VT-1-induced apoptosis through CHOP or play a protective role through ER-phagy, depending on the cell line. Several engineered Stxs are currently under investigation as potential anti-cancer agents. Our results suggest that a better understanding of the signaling pathways induced by Stxs is needed before using them in the clinic.