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1.  EtpE Binding to DNase X Induces Ehrlichial Entry via CD147 and hnRNP-K Recruitment, Followed by Mobilization of N-WASP and Actin 
mBio  2015;6(6):e01541-15.
Obligate intracellular bacteria, such as Ehrlichia chaffeensis, perish unless they can enter eukaryotic cells. E. chaffeensis is the etiological agent of human monocytic ehrlichiosis, an emerging infectious disease. To infect cells, Ehrlichia uses the C terminus of the outer membrane invasin entry-triggering protein (EtpE) of Ehrlichia (EtpE-C), which directly binds the mammalian cell surface glycosylphosphatidyl inositol-anchored protein, DNase X. How this binding drives Ehrlichia entry is unknown. Here, using affinity pulldown of host cell lysates with recombinant EtpE-C (rEtpE-C), we identified two new human proteins that interact with EtpE-C: CD147 and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP-K). The interaction of CD147 with rEtpE-C was validated by far-Western blotting and coimmunoprecipitation of native EtpE with endogenous CD147. CD147 was ubiquitous on the cell surface and also present around foci of rEtpE-C-coated-bead entry. Functional neutralization of surface-exposed CD147 with a specific antibody inhibited Ehrlichia internalization and infection but not binding. Downregulation of CD147 by short hairpin RNA (shRNA) impaired E. chaffeensis infection. Functional ablation of cytoplasmic hnRNP-K by a nanoscale intracellular antibody markedly attenuated bacterial entry and infection but not binding. EtpE-C also interacted with neuronal Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein (N-WASP), which is activated by hnRNP-K. Wiskostatin, which inhibits N-WASP activation, and cytochalasin D, which inhibits actin polymerization, inhibited Ehrlichia entry. Upon incubation with host cell lysate, EtpE-C but not an EtpE N-terminal fragment stimulated in vitro actin polymerization in an N-WASP- and DNase X-dependent manner. Time-lapse video images revealed N-WASP recruitment at EtpE-C-coated bead entry foci. Thus, EtpE-C binding to DNase X drives Ehrlichia entry by engaging CD147 and hnRNP-K and activating N-WASP-dependent actin polymerization.
Ehrlichia chaffeensis, an obligate intracellular bacterium, causes a blood-borne disease called human monocytic ehrlichiosis, one of the most prevalent life-threatening emerging tick-transmitted infectious diseases in the United States. The survival of Ehrlichia bacteria, and hence, their ability to cause disease, depends on their specific mode of entry into eukaryotic host cells. Understanding the mechanism by which E. chaffeensis enters cells will create new opportunities for developing effective therapies to prevent bacterial entry and disease in humans. Our findings reveal a novel cellular signaling pathway triggered by an ehrlichial surface protein called EtpE to induce its infectious entry. The results are also important from the viewpoint of human cell physiology because three EtpE-interacting human proteins, DNase X, CD147, and hnRNP-K, are hitherto unknown partners that drive the uptake of small particles, including bacteria, into human cells.
PMCID: PMC4631803  PMID: 26530384
3.  Ehrlichia chaffeensis Proliferation Begins with NtrY/NtrX and PutA/GlnA Upregulation and CtrA Degradation Induced by Proline and Glutamine Uptake 
mBio  2014;5(6):e02141-14.
How the obligatory intracellular bacterium Ehrlichia chaffeensis begins to replicate upon entry into human monocytes is poorly understood. Here, we examined the potential role of amino acids in initiating intracellular replication. PutA converts proline to glutamate, and GlnA converts glutamate to glutamine. E. chaffeensis PutA and GlnA complemented Escherichia coli putA and glnA mutants. Methionine sulfoximine, a glutamine synthetase inhibitor, inhibited E. chaffeensis GlnA activity and E. chaffeensis infection of human cells. Incubation of E. chaffeensis with human cells rapidly induced putA and glnA expression that peaked at 24 h postincubation. E. chaffeensis took up proline and glutamine but not glutamate. Pretreatment of E. chaffeensis with a proline transporter inhibitor (protamine), a glutamine transporter inhibitor (histidine), or proline analogs inhibited E. chaffeensis infection, whereas pretreatment with proline or glutamine enhanced infection and upregulated putA and glnA faster than no treatment or glutamate pretreatment. The temporal response of putA and glnA expression was similar to that of NtrY and NtrX, a two-component system, and electrophoretic mobility shift assays showed specific binding of recombinant E. chaffeensis NtrX (rNtrX) to the promoter regions of E. chaffeensis putA and glnA. Furthermore, rNtrX transactivated E. chaffeensis putA and glnA promoter-lacZ fusions in E. coli. Growth-promoting activities of proline and glutamine were also accompanied by rapid degradation of the DNA-binding protein CtrA. Our results suggest that proline and glutamine uptake regulates putA and glnA expression through NtrY/NtrX and facilitates degradation of CtrA to initiate a new cycle of E. chaffeensis growth.
Human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME) is one of the most prevalent, life-threatening emerging infectious zoonoses in the United States. HME is caused by infection with E. chaffeensis, an obligatory intracellular bacterium in the order Rickettsiales, which includes several category B/C pathogens, such as those causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever and epidemic typhus. The limited understanding of the mechanisms that control bacterial growth within eukaryotic cells continues to impede the identification of new therapeutic targets against rickettsial diseases. Extracellular rickettsia cannot replicate, but rickettsial replication ensues upon entry into eukaryotic host cells. Our findings will provide insights into a novel mechanism of the two-component system that regulates E. chaffeensis growth initiation in human monocytes. The result is also important because little is known about the NtrY/NtrX two-component system in any bacteria, let alone obligatory intracellular bacteria. Our findings will advance the field’s current conceptual paradigm on regulation of obligatory intracellular nutrition, metabolism, and growth.
PMCID: PMC4251998  PMID: 25425236
4.  Borrelia burgdorferi Oxidative Stress Regulator BosR Directly Represses Lipoproteins Primarily Expressed in the Tick during Mammalian Infection 
Molecular microbiology  2013;89(6):1140-1153.
Differential gene expression is a key strategy adopted by the Lyme disease spirochaete, Borrelia burgdorferi, for adaptation and survival in the mammalian host and the tick vector. Many B. burgdorferi surface lipoproteins fall into two distinct groups according to their expression patterns: one group primarily expressed in the tick and the other group primarily expressed in the mammal. Here, we show that the Fur homologue in this bacterium, also known as Borrelia oxidative stress regulator (BosR), is required for repression of outer surface protein A (OspA) and OspD in the mammal. Furthermore, BosR binds directly to sequences upstream of the ospAB operon and the ospD gene through recognition of palindromic motifs similar to those recognized by other Fur homologues but with a 1-bp variation in the spacer length. Putative BosR-binding sites have been identified upstream of 156 B. burgdorferi genes. Some of these genes share the same expression pattern as ospA and ospD. Most notably, 12 (67%) of the 18 genes previously identified in a genome-wide microarray study to be most significantly repressed in the mammal are among the putative BosR regulon. These data indicate that BosR may directly repress transcription of many genes that are down-regulated in the mammal.
PMCID: PMC3772987  PMID: 23869590
Borrelia burgdorferi; Lyme disease; Borrelia oxidative stress regulator; ferric uptake regulator; gene regulation
5.  Ats-1 
Autophagy  2013;9(5):787-788.
Obligatory intracellular life style and a small number of genes for biosynthesis and metabolism necessitate the Gram-negative bacterium, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, to depend on the host cell for nutrients. A. phagocytophilum resides in a membrane-bound inclusion, and secretes a protein, Ats-1 (Anaplasma translocated substrate-1), into the host cell cytoplasm. Ats-1 binds BECN1, a protein critical for autophagy nucleation, and induces autophagosome formation. The autophagosomes traffic to, and fuse with, A. phagocytophilum inclusions, delivering autophagic cargo into the inclusions, which can serve as nutrients for bacterial growth. This finding demonstrates that A. phagocytophilum subverts host cell autophagic machinery to facilitate infection by secreting a BECN1-binding molecule.
PMCID: PMC3669189  PMID: 23388398
Anaplasma phagocytophilum; autophagy; Ats-1; BECN1; obligatory intracellular bacterium; ATG14; omegasome; type IV secretion; bacterial nutrition
6.  Ehrlichia chaffeensis Uses Its Surface Protein EtpE to Bind GPI-Anchored Protein DNase X and Trigger Entry into Mammalian Cells 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003666.
Ehrlichia chaffeensis, an obligatory intracellular rickettsial pathogen, enters and replicates in monocytes/macrophages and several non-phagocytic cells. E. chaffeensis entry into mammalian cells is essential not only for causing the emerging zoonosis, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, but also for its survival. It remains unclear if E. chaffeensis has evolved a specific surface protein that functions as an ‘invasin’ to mediate its entry. We report a novel entry triggering protein of Ehrlichia, EtpE that functions as an invasin. EtpE is an outer membrane protein and an antibody against EtpE (the C-terminal fragment, EtpE-C) greatly inhibited E. chaffeensis binding, entry and infection of both phagocytes and non-phagocytes. EtpE-C-immunization of mice significantly inhibited E. chaffeensis infection. EtpE-C-coated latex beads, used to investigate whether EtpE-C can mediate cell invasion, entered both phagocytes and non-phagocytes and the entry was blocked by compounds that block E. chaffeensis entry. None of these compounds blocked uptake of non-coated beads by phagocytes. Yeast two-hybrid screening revealed that DNase X, a glycosylphosphatidyl inositol-anchored mammalian cell-surface protein binds EtpE-C. This was confirmed by far-Western blotting, affinity pull-down, co-immunoprecipitation, immunofluorescence labeling, and live-cell image analysis. EtpE-C-coated beads entered bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) from wild-type mice, whereas they neither bound nor entered BMDMs from DNase X-/- mice. Antibody against DNase X or DNase X knock-down by small interfering RNA impaired E. chaffeensis binding, entry, and infection. E. chaffeensis entry and infection rates of BMDMs from DNase X-/- mice and bacterial load in the peripheral blood in experimentally infected DNase X-/- mice, were significantly lower than those from wild-type mice. Thus this obligatory intracellular pathogen evolved a unique protein EtpE that binds DNase X to enter and infect eukaryotic cells. This study is the first to demonstrate the invasin and its mammalian receptor, and their in vivo relevance in any ehrlichial species.
Author Summary
Human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME), discovered in 1986, was designated as a nationally notifiable disease by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1998. HME is one of the most prevalent, life-threatening emerging infectious diseases in the United States. HME is caused by a bacterium, Ehrlichia chaffeensis and is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks. This bacterium has special ability to enter and replicate inside human white blood cells and this feature is very essential for the bacterial survival. How E. chaffeensis enters host cells has been a mystery. The present study revealed that E. chaffeensis outer-surface protein named EtpE binds a specific host cell-surface protein, DNase X, and this ligand-receptor interaction is required to induce bacterial entry into its host cells. In order to test whether E. chaffeensis infection can be prevented by EtpE immunization, mice were immunized with the recombinant EtpE protein, and challenged with live E. chaffeensis. Infection was significantly reduced in the EtpE protein-immunized mice compared to controls. Mice lacking DNase X were also resistant to infection. This study shows EtpE-mediated entry pathway of E. chaffeensis is important in infecting mammals and EtpE can be incorporated into a future HME vaccine design.
PMCID: PMC3789761  PMID: 24098122
7.  Ehrlichia type IV secretion effector ECH0825 is translocated to mitochondria and curbs ROS and apoptosis by upregulating host MnSOD 
Cellular Microbiology  2012;14(7):1037-1050.
Ehrlichia chaffeensis infects monocytes/macrophages and causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis. To determine the role of type IV secretion (T4S) system in infection, candidates for T4S effectors were identified by bacterial two-hybrid screening of E. chaffeensis hypothetical proteins with positively charged C-terminus using E. chaffeensis VirD4 as bait. Of three potential T4S effectors, ECH0825 was highly upregulated early during exponential growth in a human monocytic cell line. ECH0825 was translocated from the bacterium into the host-cell cytoplasm and localized to mitochondria. Delivery of anti-ECH0825 into infected host cells significantly reduced bacterial infection. Ectopically expressed ECH0825 also localized to mitochondria and inhibited apoptosis of transfected cells in response to etoposide treatment. In double transformed yeast, ECH0825 localized to mitochondria and inhibited human Bax-induced apoptosis. Mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) was increased over 9-fold in E. chaffeensis-infected cells, and the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in infected cells was significantly lower than that in uninfected cells. Similarly, MnSOD was upregulated and the ROS level was reduced in ECH0825-transfected cells. These data suggest that, by upregulating MnSOD, ECH0825 prevents ROS-induced cellular damage and apoptosis to allow intracellular infection. This is the first example of host ROS levels linked to a bacterial T4S effector.
PMCID: PMC3371182  PMID: 22348527
Ehrlichia chaffeensis; type IV secretion effector; mitochondria; apoptosis; BAX; ROS; MnSOD
8.  Penicillin-Binding Protein of Ehrlichia chaffeensis: Cytokine Induction Through MyD88-Dependent Pathway 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;206(1):110-116.
Background. Human monocytic ehrlichiosis is one of the most prevalent tick-borne zoonoses caused by infection with Ehrlichia chaffeensis. Although E. chaffeensis lacks entire lipopolysaccharide and most peptidoglycan biosynthesis genes, it induces inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Ehrlichia chaffeensis components that induce inflammation and the responsive host cell pathway are not known.
Methods. Expression of penicillin-binding protein (PBP) in E. chaffeensis was analyzed by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and Bocillin FL binding assay. Next, recombinant PBP, which was high-pressure liquid chromatography purified, and native PBP of E. chaffeensis were investigated for their ability to induce proinflammatory cytokines in the human monocytic leukemia cell line THP-1 and bone marrow–derived macrophages (BMDMs) from wild-type and MyD88 knockout mice.
Results. Expression of PBP by E. chaffeensis was upregulated during its intracellular life cycle. PBP induced interleukin 8 or CXCL2, tumor necrosis factor α, interleukin 1β, and interleukin 10 in THP-1 cells and BMDMs. Cytokine induction by PBP was MyD88-dependent. Removal of PBP from E. chaffeensis lysate using penicillin affinity column and a complementation assay confirmed cytokine-inducing activity of native PBP.
Conclusions. The cytokine-inducing activity by E. chaffeensis PBP provides novel insights into pathogen-associated molecular patterns and pathogenesis of E. chaffeensis infection.
PMCID: PMC3415931  PMID: 22539814
9.  Subversion of NPC1 pathway of cholesterol transport by Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
Cellular microbiology  2012;14(4):560-576.
Intracellular cholesterol amounts, distribution, and traffic are tightly regulated to maintain the healthy eukaryotic cell function. However, how intracellular pathogens that require cholesterol, interact with the host cholesterol homeostasis and traffic is not well understood. Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an obligatory intracellular and cholesterol-robbing bacterium, which causes human granulocytic anaplasmosis. Here we found that a subset of cholesterol-binding membrane protein, Niemann–Pick type C1 (NPC1)-bearing vesicles devoid of lysosomal markers were upregulated in HL-60 cells infected with A. phagocytophilum, and trafficked to live bacterial inclusions. The NPC1 localization to A. phagocytophilum inclusions was abolished by low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-derived cholesterol traffic inhibitor U18666A. Studies using NPC1 siRNA and the cell line with cholesterol traffic defect demonstrated that the NPC1 function is required for bacterial cholesterol acquisition and infection. Furthermore, trans-Golgi network-specific soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptors, vesicle-associated membrane protein (VAMP4) and syntaxin 16, which are associated with NPC1 and LDL-derived cholesterol vesicular transport were recruited to A. phagocytophilum inclusions, and VAMP4 was required for bacteria infection. Taken together, A. phagocytophilum is the first example of a pathogen that subverts the NPC1 pathway of intracellular cholesterol transport and homeostasis for bacterial inclusion membrane biogenesis and cholesterol capture.
PMCID: PMC3604884  PMID: 22212234
Anaplasma phagocytophilum; NPC1; Inclusion; Cholesterol; LAMP-1; LAMP-2; VAMP4; syntaxin 16
10.  Type IV secretion in the obligatory intracellular bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
Cellular microbiology  2010;12(9):1213-1221.
Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an obligatory intracellular bacterium that infects neutrophils, the primary host defense cells. Consequent effects of infection on host cells result in a potentially fatal systemic disease called human granulocytic anaplasmosis. Despite ongoing reductive genome evolution and deletion of most genes for intermediary metabolism and amino acid biosynthesis, Anaplasma has also experienced expansion of genes encoding several components of the Type IV secretion (T4S) apparatus. Two A. phagocytophilum T4S effector molecules are currently known; Anaplasma translocated substrate 1 (Ats-1) and ankyrin repeat domain–containing protein A (AnkA) have C-terminal positively charged amino acid residues that are recognized by the T4S coupling protein, VirD4. AnkA and Ats-1 contain eukaryotic protein motifs and are uniquely evolved in the family Anaplasmataceae; Ats-1 contains a mitochondria-targeting signal. They are abundantly produced and secreted into the host cytoplasm, are not toxic to host cells, and manipulate host cell processes to aid in the infection process. At the cellular level, the two effectors have distinct subcellular localization and signaling in host cells. Thus in this obligatory intracellular pathogen, the T4S system has evolved as a host-subversive survival factor.
PMCID: PMC3598623  PMID: 20670295
11.  Insights into the CtrA Regulon in Development of Stress Resistance in Obligatory Intracellular Pathogen Ehrlichia chaffeensis 
Molecular microbiology  2011;82(5):1217-1234.
Ehrlichia chaffeensis is an obligate intracellular bacterium that causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiae have a biphasic developmental cycle consisting of dense-cored cells (DCs) and reticulate cells (RCs). Isolated DCs are more stress resistant and infectious than RCs. Here, we report that a response regulator, CtrA was upregulated in human monocytes at the late growth stage when DCs develop. E. chaffeensis CtrA bound to the promoters of late-stage transcribed genes: ctrA, ompA (peptidoglycan-associated lipoprotein), bolA (stress-induced morphogen), and surE (stationary phase survival protein), which contain CtrA-binding motifs, and transactivated ompA, surE, and bolA promoter-lacZ fusions in Escherichia coli. OmpA was predominantly expressed in DCs. E. chaffeensis binding to and subsequent infection of monocytes were inhibited by anti-OmpA IgG. E. chaffeensis BolA bound to the promoters of genes encoding outer surface proteins TRP120 and ECH_1038, which were expressed in DCs, and transactivated trp120 and ECH_1038 promoter-lacZ fusions. E. chaffeensis bolA complemented a stress-sensitive E. coli bolA mutant. E. coli expressing E. chaffeensis surE exhibited increased resistance to osmotic stress. Our results suggest that E. chaffeensis CtrA plays a role in coordinating development of the stress resistance for passage from the present to the next host cells through its regulon.
PMCID: PMC3241975  PMID: 22014113
12.  Mechanisms of Obligatory Intracellular Infection with Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  2011;24(3):469-489.
Summary: Anaplasma phagocytophilum persists in nature by cycling between mammals and ticks. Human infection by the bite of an infected tick leads to a potentially fatal emerging disease called human granulocytic anaplasmosis. A. phagocytophilum is an obligatory intracellular bacterium that replicates inside mammalian granulocytes and the salivary gland and midgut cells of ticks. A. phagocytophilum evolved the remarkable ability to hijack the regulatory system of host cells. A. phagocytophilum alters vesicular traffic to create an intracellular membrane-bound compartment that allows replication in seclusion from lysosomes. The bacterium downregulates or actively inhibits a number of innate immune responses of mammalian host cells, and it upregulates cellular cholesterol uptake to acquire cholesterol for survival. It also upregulates several genes critical for the infection of ticks, and it prolongs tick survival at freezing temperatures. Several host factors that exacerbate infection have been identified, including interleukin-8 (IL-8) and cholesterol. Host factors that overcome infection include IL-12 and gamma interferon (IFN-γ). Two bacterial type IV secretion effectors and several bacterial proteins that associate with inclusion membranes have been identified. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying A. phagocytophilum infection will foster the development of creative ideas to prevent or treat this emerging tick-borne disease.
PMCID: PMC3131063  PMID: 21734244
13.  The prenylation inhibitor manumycin A reduces the viability of Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
Journal of Medical Microbiology  2011;60(Pt 6):744-749.
Anaplasma phagocytophilum is an obligately intracellular bacterium and is the causative agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA), an emerging and major tick-borne disease in the USA and other parts of the world. This study showed that the prenylation inhibitor manumycin A effectively blocked A. phagocytophilum infection in host cells (HL-60 or RF/6A cells). A. phagocytophilum infection activated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) mitogen-activated protein kinase in host cells, and manumycin A treatment reduced ERK activation in A. phagocytophilum-infected host cells. As ERK activation is required for A. phagocytophilum infection, we examined whether manumycin A inhibited the bacteria directly or through host ERK signalling. Treatment of A. phagocytophilum alone with manumycin A significantly reduced the bacterial infectivity of host cells and bacterial viability in the absence of host cells, whereas pre-treatment of host cells did not inhibit bacterial infection in host cells. The inhibitory effect of manumycin A on A. phagocytophilum infection in host cells was achieved even at a concentration 100 times lower than that required for effective inhibition of mammalian cell signalling. These results suggested that manumycin A directly inactivates the bacterium, resulting in reduced infection and ERK1/2 activation. Thus, the manumycin group of drugs may have a therapeutic potential for HGA.
PMCID: PMC3167922  PMID: 21349982
14.  Ehrlichia chaffeensis Induces Monocyte Inflammatory Responses through MyD88, ERK, and NF-κB but Not through TRIF, Interleukin-1 Receptor 1 (IL-1R1)/IL-18R1, or Toll-Like Receptors ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(12):4947-4956.
Human monocytic ehrlichiosis, an influenza-like illness accompanied by signs of hepatitis, is caused by infection of monocytes/macrophages with a lipopolysaccharide-deficient bacterium, Ehrlichia chaffeensis. The E. chaffeensis strain Wakulla induces diffuse hepatitis with neutrophil infiltration in mice with severe combined immunodeficiency, which is accompanied by strong CXCL2 (mouse functional homolog of interleukin-8 [IL-8]) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) expression in the liver. In this study, we found that expression of IL-1β, CXCL2, and TNF-α was induced by strain Wakulla in mouse bone marrow-derived macrophages; this expression was dependent on MyD88, but not on TRIF, TLR2/4, IL-1R1/IL-18R1, or endosome acidification. When the human leukemia cell line THP-1 was exposed to E. chaffeensis, significant upregulation of IL-8, IL-1β, and TNF-α mRNA and extracellular regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) activation were detected. U0126 (inhibitor of mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase 1/2 [MEK1/2] upstream of ERK), manumycin A (Ras inhibitor), BAY43-9006 (Raf-1 inhibitor), and NS-50 (inhibitor of NF-κB nuclear translocation) inhibited the cytokine gene expression. A luciferase reporter assay using HEK293 cells, which lack Toll-like receptors (TLRs), showed activation of both the IL-8 promoter and NF-κB by E. chaffeensis. Activation of the IL-8 promoter in transfected HEK293 cells was inhibited by manumycin A, BAY43-9006, U0126, and transfection with a dominant-negative Ras mutant. These results indicate that the E. chaffeensis Wakulla strain can induce inflammatory responses through MyD88-dependent NF-κB and ERK pathways, without the involvement of TRIF and TLRs.
PMCID: PMC3232640  PMID: 21930764
15.  Cyclic Dimeric GMP Signaling Regulates Intracellular Aggregation, Sessility, and Growth of Ehrlichia chaffeensis ▿ § 
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(10):3905-3912.
Cyclic dimeric GMP (c-di-GMP), a bacterial second messenger, is known to regulate bacterial biofilm and sessility. Replication of an obligatory intracellular pathogen, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, is characterized by formation of bacterial aggregates called morulae inside membrane-bound inclusions. When E. chaffeensis matures into an infectious form, morulae become loose to allow bacteria to exit from host cells to infect adjacent cells. E. chaffeensis expresses a sensor kinase, PleC, and a cognate response regulator, PleD, which can produce c-di-GMP. A hydrophobic c-di-GMP antagonist, 2′-O-di(tert-butyldimethysilyl)-c-di-GMP (CDGA) inhibits E. chaffeensis internalization into host cells by facilitating degradation of some bacterial surface proteins via endogenous serine proteases. In the present study, we found that PleC and PleD were upregulated synchronously during exponential growth of bacteria, concomitant with increased morula size. While CDGA did not affect host cells, when infected cells were treated with CDGA, bacterial proliferation was inhibited, morulae became less compact, and the intracellular movement of bacteria was enhanced. Concurrently, CDGA treatment facilitated the extracellular release of bacteria with lower infectivity than those spontaneously released from sham-treated cells. Addition of CDGA to isolated inclusions induced dispersion of the morulae, degradation of an inclusion matrix protein TRP120, and bacterial intrainclusion movement, all of which were blocked by a serine protease inhibitor. These results suggest that c-di-GMP signaling regulates aggregation and sessility of E. chaffeensis within the inclusion through stabilization of matrix proteins by preventing the serine protease activity, which is associated with bacterial intracellular proliferation and maturation.
PMCID: PMC3187278  PMID: 21788390
16.  Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Ehrlichia chaffeensis type IV secretion and Ank proteins 
Summary of recent advances
The obligatory intracellular bacterial pathogens Anaplasma and Ehrlichia infect leukocytes by hijacking host-cell components and processes. The type IV secretion system is up-regulated during infection. Among type IV secretion candidate substrates, an ankyrin repeat protein of Anaplasma phagocytophilum, AnkA, is delivered into the host cytoplasm via a complex that includes VirD4. AnkA is highly tyrosine-phosphorylated and binds to the Abl interactor 1, SHP-1, and nuclear DNA fragments. Ehrlichia chaffeensis AnkA was recently reported to be translocated into host cell nucleus. The recent discovery of several ankyrin repeat proteins secreted via the type IV secretion system of different intracellular bacteria suggests that a common strategy evolved to subvert host-cell functions.
PMCID: PMC3251840  PMID: 20053580
17.  Cloning of the Major Outer Membrane Protein Expression Locus in Anaplasma platys and Seroreactivity of a Species-Specific Antigen ▿ 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(12):2924-2930.
Anaplasma platys infects peripheral blood platelets and causes infectious cyclic thrombocytopenia in canines. The genes, proteins, and antigens of A. platys are largely unknown, and an antigen for serodiagnosis of A. platys has not yet been identified. In this study, we cloned the A. platys major outer membrane protein cluster, including the P44/Msp2 expression locus (p44ES/msp2ES) and outer membrane protein (OMP), using DNA isolated from the blood of four naturally infected dogs from Venezuela and Taiwan, Republic of China. A. platys p44ES is located within a 4-kb genomic region downstream from a putative transcriptional regulator, tr1, and a homolog of the Anaplasma phagocytophilum, identified here as A. platys omp-1X. The predicted molecular masses of the four mature A. platys P44ES proteins ranged from 43.3 to 43.5 kDa. Comparative analyses of the deduced amino acid sequences of Tr1, OMP-1X, and P44/Msp2 proteins from A. platys with those from A. phagocytophilum showed sequence identities of 86.4% for Tr1, 45.9% to 46.3% for OMP-1X, and 55.0% to 56.9% for P44/Msp2. Comparison between A. platys and Anaplasma marginale proteins showed sequence identities of 73.1% for Tr1/Tr, 39.8% for OMP-1X/OMP1, and 41.5% to 42.1% for P44/Msp2. A synthetic OMP-1X peptide was shown to react with A. platys-positive sera but not with A. platys-negative sera or A. phagocytophilum-positive sera. Together, determination of the genomic locus of A. platys outer membrane proteins not only contributes to the fundamental understanding of this enigmatic pathogen but also helps in developing A. platys-specific PCR and serodiagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3133200  PMID: 21498646
18.  Proteomic Analysis of Neorickettsia sennetsu Surface-Exposed Proteins and Porin Activity of the Major Surface Protein P51▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(22):5898-5905.
Neorickettsia sennetsu is an obligate intracellular bacterium of monocytes and macrophages and is the etiologic agent of human Sennetsu neorickettsiosis. Neorickettsia proteins expressed in mammalian host cells, including the surface proteins of Neorickettsia spp., have not been defined. In this paper, we isolated surface-exposed proteins from N. sennetsu by biotin surface labeling followed by streptavidin-affinity chromatography. Forty-two of the total of 936 (4.5%) N. sennetsu open reading frames (ORFs) were detected by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS), including six hypothetical proteins. Among the major proteins identified were the two major β-barrel proteins: the 51-kDa antigen (P51) and Neorickettsia surface protein 3 (Nsp3). Immunofluorescence labeling not only confirmed surface exposure of these proteins but also showed rosary-like circumferential labeling with anti-P51 for the majority of bacteria and polar to diffuse punctate labeling with anti-Nsp3 for a minority of bacteria. We found that the isolated outer membrane of N. sennetsu had porin activity, as measured by a proteoliposome swelling assay. This activity allowed the diffusion of l-glutamine, the monosaccharides arabinose and glucose, and the tetrasaccharide stachyose, which could be inhibited with anti-P51 antibody. We purified native P51 and Nsp3 under nondenaturing conditions. When reconstituted into proteoliposomes, purified P51, but not Nsp3, exhibited prominent porin activity. This the first proteomic study of a Neorickettsia sp. showing new sets of proteins evolved as major surface proteins for Neorickettsia and the first identification of a porin for the genus Neorickettsia.
PMCID: PMC2976439  PMID: 20833807
19.  Development of a p28-based PCR assay for Ehrlichia chaffeensis 
Molecular and cellular probes  2004;18(2):111-116.
Detection of Ehrlichia chaffeensis is necessary to study interactions between the parasite and its vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. The purpose of this study was to develop a sensitive, specific PCR assay for E. chaffeensis based on the outer membrane protein gene, p28. Candidate primer sets were identified and ranked based on annealing scores, similarities to three major p28 sequence clusters, dissimilarity to E. canis p30, an ortholog of p28, and the proximities of flanking primer sequences for nested PCR. The relative sensitivities of five optimized single-step and two nested PCR assays were determined, and the most sensitive assay was found to be a single-step PCR that was as much as 1000-fold more sensitive than a standard 16S rDNA-based nested PCR assay. This p28-based PCR assay amplified the target amplicon from isolates representative of all three major clusters of known p28 sequences, and this assay did not amplify template prepared from either of the two species most closely related to E. chaffeensis, E. canis and E. muris. These results indicate that this sensitive, specific and isolate-universal single-step PCR assay will be a useful tool in characterizing the transmission of this important zoonotic pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3066156  PMID: 15051120
Ehrlichia chaffeensis; Human monocytic ehrlichiosis; PCR assay
20.  Experimental infection of dairy calves with Ehrlichia chaffeensis 
Journal of medical microbiology  2007;56(Pt 12):1660-1668.
Human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME) is a zoonotic emerging tick-borne disease with clinical signs that range from mild symptoms to multiple organ failure and death. Ehrlichia chaffeensis, the aetiologic agent of HME, is reported to infect a divergent range of mammals. Although cattle are common hosts of the primary vector of this pathogen, the susceptibility of this host to E. chaffeensis has not been reported to date. This study was undertaken to determine if cattle could provide a useful infection model of E. chaffeensis. Dairy calves were injected with DH82 cells infected with the Arkansas, St Vincent or 91HE17 strain of E. chaffeensis, and monitored for signs of clinical ehrlichiosis and for infection of peripheral blood and ticks by PCR assay. Splenectomized and spleen-intact calves were injected with cryopreserved stabilates of E. chaffeensis-infected DH82 cells for the first experiment. Mild clinical signs were occasionally observed among these calves, and only two blood samples were PCR-positive, while several ticks fed on each calf tested PCR-positive. The second experiment involved injection of normal calves with active cultures of the same E. chaffeensis strains. Interestingly, three of six calves inoculated with active cultures became recumbent and died or had to be euthanized. All of the surviving calves in this experiment tested PCR-positive on multiple dates, but fewer ticks fed on these calves were PCR-positive. These results suggest that a bovine disease model could facilitate the understanding of factors that affect the severity of HME.
PMCID: PMC3066168  PMID: 18033836
21.  Antibiotic clearance of Ehrlichia canis from dogs infected by intravenous inoculation of carrier blood 
Ehrlichia canis is the etiologic agent of canine monocytic ehrlichiosis (CME) and is a useful model for tick-borne zoonotic pathogens, many of which infect dogs. The purpose of this study was to evaluate rifampin and doxycycline regimens for clearance of E. canis infections in addition to alleviation of CME. Beagles were infected with E. canis by intravenous inoculation with carrier blood and treated with either rifampin or doxycycline after the acute phase of CME. Improved hematological values demonstrated that both treatments effectively relieved signs of the disease. Peripheral blood from all dogs became PCR-negative after antibiotic treatment, suggesting that these infections were eliminated and that rifampin is an effective alternative chemotherapeutic agent for treatment of CME.
PMCID: PMC3052985  PMID: 19120226
Ehrlichia canis; Rhipicephalus sanguineus; ehrlichiosis; doxycycline; rifampin
22.  Transstadial and intrastadial experimental transmission of Ehrlichia canis by male Rhipicephalus sanguineus 
Veterinary parasitology  2005;131(1-2):95-105.
The acquisition and transmission of rickettsial pathogens by different tick developmental stages has important epidemiological implications. The purpose of this study was to determine if male Rhipicephalus sanguineus can experimentally acquire and transmit Ehrlichia canis in the absence of female ticks. Two trials were performed where nymphal and male R. sanguineus were simultaneously acquisition fed on the same infected donor hosts, and transstadially or intrastadially exposed male ticks were fed on separate pathogen-free dogs as a test for transmission. A single-step p30-based PCR assay was used to test canine and tick hosts for E. canis infections before and after tick feeding. E. canis was detected after either intrastadial or transstadial passage in male ticks, the organism remained detectable in both tick groups after transmission feeding, and both tick groups transmitted the rickettsia to susceptible dogs. Infection of dogs via tick feeding resulted in milder clinical signs and lower antibody titers than intravenous inoculation of carrier blood, but further investigation is needed to understand the mechanisms responsible for this observation. These results demonstrate that male R. sanguineus can take multiple feedings, and that they can both acquire and transmit E. canis in the absence of female ticks. This tick development stage could be important in transmission of E. canis, and perhaps related pathogens, between vertebrate hosts under natural and experimental conditions.
PMCID: PMC3052987  PMID: 15941624
Ehrlichia canis; Canine monocytic ehrlichiosis; Tick transmission; Rhipicephalus sanguineus; Metastriata
23.  Pathological evidence of ehrlichiosis among calves inoculated with Ehrlichia chaffeensis 
An immunocompetent animal disease model based on infection with Ehrlichia chaffeensis would facilitate research toward understanding mechanisms responsible for the broad range of clinical signs associated with human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME). Adaptability to experimental feeding of various tick species and stages and to testing therapies comparable to those for human diseases are additional advantages of large animal models. Herein we summarize pathology reports for calves that developed fatal disease after experimental inoculation with E. chaffeensis. Elevated liver enzyme levels and lung pathology among these deceased calves corroborated earlier reports of severe HME. Thus, an experimental disease model based on infection of outbred immunocompetent hosts with E. chaffeensis could be within our grasp for the first time.
PMCID: PMC3053141  PMID: 19120184
Ehrlichia chaffeensis; human monocytic ehrlichiosis; large animal disease model
24.  Global Proteomic Analysis of Two Tick-Borne Emerging Zoonotic Agents: Anaplasma Phagocytophilum and Ehrlichia Chaffeensis 
Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Ehrlichia chaffeensis are obligatory intracellular α-proteobacteria that infect human leukocytes and cause potentially fatal emerging zoonoses. In the present study, we determined global protein expression profiles of these bacteria cultured in the human promyelocytic leukemia cell line, HL-60. Mass spectrometric (MS) analyses identified a total of 1,212 A. phagocytophilum and 1,021 E. chaffeensis proteins, representing 89.3 and 92.3% of the predicted bacterial proteomes, respectively. Nearly all bacterial proteins (≥99%) with known functions were expressed, whereas only approximately 80% of “hypothetical” proteins were detected in infected human cells. Quantitative MS/MS analyses indicated that highly expressed proteins in both bacteria included chaperones, enzymes involved in biosynthesis and metabolism, and outer membrane proteins, such as A. phagocytophilum P44 and E. chaffeensis P28/OMP-1. Among 113 A. phagocytophilum p44 paralogous genes, 110 of them were expressed and 88 of them were encoded by pseudogenes. In addition, bacterial infection of HL-60 cells up-regulated the expression of human proteins involved mostly in cytoskeleton components, vesicular trafficking, cell signaling, and energy metabolism, but down-regulated some pattern recognition receptors involved in innate immunity. Our proteomics data represent a comprehensive analysis of A. phagocytophilum and E. chaffeensis proteomes, and provide a quantitative view of human host protein expression profiles regulated by bacterial infection. The availability of these proteomic data will provide new insights into biology and pathogenesis of these obligatory intracellular pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3109344  PMID: 21687416
Anaplasma phagocytophilum; Ehrlichia chaffeensis; proteomic analysis; human granulocytic anaplasmosis; human monocytic ehrlichiosis; human leukocytes
25.  Molecular Events Involved in Cellular Invasion by Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Anaplasma phagocytophilum 
Veterinary parasitology  2009;167(2-4):155.
Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Anaplasma phagocytophilum are obligatory intracellular bacteria that preferentially replicate inside leukocytes by utilizing biological compounds and processes of these primary host defensive cells. These bacteria incorporate cholesterol from the host for their survival. Upon interaction with host monocytes and granulocytes, respectively, these bacteria usurp the lipid raft domain containing GPI-anchored protein to induce a series of signaling events that result in internalization of the bacteria. Monocytes and neutrophils usually kill invading microorganisms by fusion of the phagosomes containing the bacteria with granules containing both antimicrobial peptides and lysosomal hydrolytic enzymes and/or through sequestering vital nutrients. However, E. chaffeensis and A. phagocytophilum alter vesicular traffic to create a unique intracellular membrane-bound compartment that allows their replication in seclusion from lysosomal killing. These bacteria are quite sensitive to reactive oxygen species (ROS), so in order to survive in host cells that are primary mediators of ROS-induced killing, they inhibit activation of NADPH oxidase and assembly of this enzyme in their inclusion compartments. Moreover, host phagocyte activation and differentiation, apoptosis, and IFN-γ signaling pathways are inhibited by these bacteria. Through reductive evolution, lipopolysaccharide and peptidoglycan that activate the innate immune response, have been eliminated from these gram-negative bacteria at the genomic level. Upon interaction with new host cells, bacterial genes encoding the type IV secretion apparatus and the two-component regulatory system are upregulated to sense and adapt to the host environment. Thus dynamic signal transduction events concurrently proceed both in the host cells and in the invading E. chaffeensis and A. phagocytophilum bacteria for successful establishment of intracellular infection. Several bacterial surface exposed proteins and porins are recently identified. Further functional studies on Ehrlichia and Anaplasma effector or ligand molecules and cognate host cell receptors will undoubtedly advance our understanding of the complex interplay between obligatory intracellular pathogens and their hosts. Such data can be applied towards treatment, diagnosis, and control of ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.
PMCID: PMC2815030  PMID: 19836896
Ehrlichia; Anaplasma; cellular invasion; signaling

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