GPER activation protects against epithelial barrier disruption by Staphylococcus aureus α-toxin.
Sex bias in innate defense against Staphylococcus aureus skin and soft tissue infection (SSTI) is dependent on both estrogen production by the host and S. aureus secretion of the virulence factor, α-hemolysin (Hla). The impact of estrogen signaling on the immune system is most often studied in terms of the nuclear estrogen receptors ERα and ERβ. However, the potential contribution of the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER) to innate defense against infectious disease, particularly with respect to skin infection, has not been addressed. Using a murine model of SSTI, we found that GPER activation with the highly selective agonist G-1 limits S. aureus SSTI and Hla-mediated pathogenesis, effects that were absent in GPER knockout mice. Specifically, G-1 reduced Hla-mediated skin lesion formation and pro-inflammatory cytokine production, while increasing bacterial clearance. In vitro, G-1 reduced surface expression of the Hla receptor, ADAM10, in a human keratinocyte cell line and increased resistance to Hla-mediated permeability barrier disruption. This novel role for GPER activation in skin innate defense against infectious disease suggests that G-1 may have clinical utility in patients with epithelial permeability barrier dysfunction or who are otherwise at increased risk of S. aureus infection, including those with atopic dermatitis or cancer.