Melioidosis, a lethal tropical infection that is endemic in southeast Asia and northern Australia, is caused by the saprophytic Gram-negative bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. Overall mortality approaches 40% yet little is known about mechanisms of host defense. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are host transmembrane receptors that recognize conserved pathogen molecular patterns and induce an inflammatory response. The lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of Gram-negative bacteria is a potent inducer of the host innate immune system. TLR4, in association with MD-2, is the archetype receptor for LPS although B. pseudomallei LPS has been previously identified as a TLR2 agonist. We examined TLR signaling induced by B. pseudomallei, B. pseudomallei LPS, and B. pseudomallei lipid A using gain-of-function transfection assays of NF-κB activation and studies of TLR-deficient macrophages.
In HEK293 cells transfected with murine or human TLRs, CD14, and MD-2, heat-killed B. pseudomallei activated TLR2 (in combination with TLR1 or TLR6) and TLR4. B. pseudomallei LPS and lipid A activated TLR4 and this TLR4-mediated signaling required MD-2. In TLR2-/- macrophages, stimulation with heat-killed B. pseudomallei augmented TNF-α and MIP-2 production whereas in TLR4-/- cells, TNF-α, MIP-2, and IL-10 production was reduced. Cytokine production by macrophages stimulated with B. pseudomallei LPS or lipid A was entirely dependent on TLR4 but was increased in the absence of TLR2. TLR adaptor molecule MyD88 strongly regulated TNF-α production in response to heat-killed B. pseudomallei.
B. pseudomallei activates TLR2 and TLR4. In the presence of MD-2, B. pseudomallei LPS and lipid A are TLR4 ligands. Although the macrophage cytokine response to B. pseudomallei LPS or lipid A is completely dependent on TLR4, in TLR2-/- macrophages stimulated with B. pseudomallei, B. pseudomallei LPS or lipid A, cytokine production is augmented. Other MyD88-dependent signaling pathways may also be important in the host response to B. pseudomallei infection. These findings provide new insights into critical mechanisms of host defense in melioidosis.