Yersinia enterocolitica, a facultative intracellular pathogen of mammals, readily enters (i.e., invades) cultured eukaryotic cells, a process that can be conferred by the cloned inv locus of the species. We have studied the mechanism by which the product of inv, a microbial outer membrane protein termed "invasin," mediates the internalization of bacteria by HEp-2 cells and chicken embryo fibroblasts. Invasin-bearing bacteria initially bound the filopodia and the leading edges of cultured cells. Multiple points of contact between the bacterial surface and the surface of the cell ensued and led to the internalization of the bacterium within an endocytic vacuole; the same multi-step process could be induced by an inert particle coated with invasin-containing membranes. Both adherence and internalization were blocked by an antisera directed against the beta 1 integrin cell-adherence molecule. Ultrastructural studies of detergent-insoluble cytoskeletons from infected cells and immunofluorescence microscopy of phalloidin-labeled cells showed alterations in the structure of the cytoskeleton during the internalization process including the accumulation of polymerized actin around entering bacteria. Bacterial entry was prevented by cytochalasin D indicating that the internalization process requires actin microfilament function. Possible linkages between beta 1 containing integrins and the cytoskeleton were examined during the internalization process through the use of protein-specific antibodies and immunofluorescence microscopy. Like actin, the actin-associated proteins filamin, talin and the beta 1 integrin subunit were also found to accumulate around entering bacteria. These findings suggest that the invasin-mediated internalization process is associated with cytoskeletal reorganization.

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