PloS one

The arginine decarboxylase pathways of host and pathogen interact to impact inflammatory pathways in the lung.

PMID 25350753


The arginine decarboxylase pathway, which converts arginine to agmatine, is present in both humans and most bacterial pathogens. In humans agmatine is a neurotransmitter with affinities towards α2-adrenoreceptors, serotonin receptors, and may inhibit nitric oxide synthase. In bacteria agmatine serves as a precursor to polyamine synthesis and was recently shown to enhance biofilm development in some strains of the respiratory pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We determined agmatine is at the center of a competing metabolism in the human lung during airways infections and is influenced by the metabolic phenotypes of the infecting pathogens. Ultra performance liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection was used to measure agmatine in human sputum samples from patients with cystic fibrosis, spent supernatant from clinical sputum isolates, and from bronchoalvelolar lavage fluid from mice infected with P. aeruginosa agmatine mutants. Agmatine in human sputum peaks during illness, decreased with treatment and is positively correlated with inflammatory cytokines. Analysis of the agmatine metabolic phenotype in clinical sputum isolates revealed most deplete agmatine when grown in its presence; however a minority appeared to generate large amounts of agmatine presumably driving sputum agmatine to high levels. Agmatine exposure to inflammatory cells and in mice demonstrated its role as a direct immune activator with effects on TNF-α production, likely through NF-κB activation. P. aeruginosa mutants for agmatine detection and metabolism were constructed and show the real-time evolution of host-derived agmatine in the airways during acute lung infection. These experiments also demonstrated pathogen agmatine production can upregulate the inflammatory response. As some clinical isolates have adapted to hypersecrete agmatine, these combined data would suggest agmatine is a novel target for immune modulation in the host-pathogen dynamic.