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Iron is a well-established mediator of virulence in several bacterial pathogens, yet little is known about the role of iron in infectious disease processes caused by obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens. In this study, the effect of iron limitation was examined for the sexually transmitted infectious agent Chlamydia trachomatis in an in vitro model of human genital infection using the intracellular iron-chelating reagent deferoxamine mesylate (Desferal). Iron restriction caused a significant reduction in infectivity of C. trachomatis elementary bodies (EB) harvested from Desferal-exposed polarized epithelial cells when compared to that of EB harvested from iron-sufficient control cell cultures. Replacement of the Desferal exposure medium with medium containing iron-saturated transferrin restored chlamydial infectivity, whereas replacement with growth medium alone had no effect. The following three prominent morphological features were observed by electron microscopic examination of chlamydia-infected cells exposed to Desferal: (i) inclusions containing chlamydiae greatly delayed in maturation, (ii) substantial blebbing within chlamydial inclusions, and (iii) electron-dense material surrounding inclusions. Protein analyses of highly purified EB by two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed that there were at least 19 candidate iron-repressible proteins in C. trachomatis and at least one protein which was iron inducible. One putative iron-repressible protein was confirmed by Western blot (immunoblot) analysis to be the chlamydial heat shock protein 60 (hsp60). The enhanced production of this antigen by chlamydiae as a result of iron limitation is of particular importance since there is a well-documented association between chlamydial hsp60 and destructive immunopathological sequelae in infected patients.