Following invasion of the host cell, pore-forming toxins secreted by pathogens compromise vacuole integrity and expose the microbe to diverse intracellular defence mechanisms. However, the quantitative correlation between toxin expression levels and consequent pore dynamics, fostering the intracellular life of pathogens, remains largely unexplored. In this study, using Streptococcus pneumoniae and its secreted pore-forming toxin pneumolysin (Ply) as a model system, we explored various facets of host–pathogen interactions in the host cytosol. Using time-lapse fluorescence imaging, we monitored pore formation dynamics and lifespans of different pneumococcal subpopulations inside host cells. Based on experimental histograms of various event timescales such as pore formation time, vacuolar death or cytosolic escape time and total degradation time, we developed a mathematical model based on first-passage processes that could correlate the event timescales to intravacuolar toxin accumulation. This allowed us to estimate Ply production rate, burst size and threshold Ply quantities that trigger these outcomes. Collectively, we present a general method that illustrates a correlation between toxin expression levels and pore dynamics, dictating intracellular lifespans of pathogens.

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