Eukaryotic cells utilize multiple endocytic pathways for specific uptake of ligands or molecules, and these pathways are commonly hijacked by pathogens to enable host cell invasion. Escherichia coliK1, a pathogenic bacterium that causes neonatal meningitis, invades the endothelium of the blood-brain barrier, but the entry route remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that the bacteria trigger an actin-mediated uptake route, stimulating fluid phase uptake, membrane ruffling and macropinocytosis. The route of uptake requires intact lipid rafts as shown by cholesterol depletion. Using a variety of perturbants we demonstrate that small Rho GTPases and their downstream effectors have a significant effect on bacterial invasion. Furthermore, clathrin-mediated endocytosis appears to play an indirect role in E. coliK1 uptake. The data suggest that the bacteria effect a complex interplay between the Rho GTPases to increase their chances of uptake by macropinocytosis into human brain microvascular endothelial cells.
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