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Staphylococcus aureus initiates infections and produces virulence factors, including superantigens (SAgs), at mucosal surfaces. The SAg, Toxic Shock Syndrome Toxin-1 (TSST-1) induces cytokine secretion from epithelial cells, antigen presenting cells (APCs) and T lymphocytes, and causes toxic shock syndrome (TSS). This study investigated the mechanism of TSST-1-induced secretion of proinflammatory cytokines from human vaginal epithelial cells (HVECs) and determined if curcumin, an anti-inflammatory agent, could reduce TSST-1-mediated pathology in a rabbit vaginal model of TSS. TSST-1 caused a significant increase in NF-κB-dependent transcription in HVECs that was associated with increased expression of TNF- α, MIP-3α, IL-6 and IL-8. Curcumin, an antagonist of NF-κB-dependent transcription, inhibited IL-8 production from ex vivo porcine vaginal explants at nontoxic doses. In a rabbit model of TSS, co-administration of curcumin with TSST-1 intravaginally reduced lethality by 60% relative to 100% lethality in rabbits receiving TSST-1 alone. In addition, TNF-α was undetectable from serum or vaginal tissue of curcumin treated rabbits that survived. These data suggest that the inflammatory response induced at the mucosal surface by TSST-1 is NF-κB dependent. In addition, the ability of curcumin to prevent TSS in vivo by co-administration with TSST-1 intravaginally suggests that the vaginal mucosal proinflammatory response to TSST-1 is important in the progression of mTSS.

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