Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) is a Gram-positive facultative intracellular pathogen1. Mouse studies typically employ intravenous injection of Listeria, which results in systemic infection2. After injection, Listeria quickly disseminates to the spleen and liver due to uptake by CD8α+ dendritic cells and Kupffer cells3,4. Once phagocytosed, various bacterial proteins enable Listeria to escape the phagosome, survive within the cytosol, and infect neighboring cells5. During the first three days of infection, different innate immune cells (e.g. monocytes, neutrophils, NK cells, dendritic cells) mediate bactericidal mechanisms that minimize Listeria proliferation. CD8+ T cells are subsequently recruited and responsible for the eventual clearance of Listeria from the host, typically within 10 days of infection6.
Successful clearance of Listeria from infected mice depends on the appropriate onset of host immune responses6 . There is a broad range of sensitivities amongst inbred mouse strains7,8. Generally, mice with increased susceptibility to Listeria infection are less able to control bacterial proliferation, demonstrating increased bacterial load and/or delayed clearance compared to resistant mice. Genetic studies, including linkage analyses and knockout mouse strains, have identified various genes for which sequence variation affects host responses to Listeria infection6,8-14. Determination and comparison of infection kinetics between different mouse strains is therefore an important method for identifying host genetic factors that contribute to immune responses against Listeria. Comparison of host responses to different Listeria strains is also an effective way to identify bacterial virulence factors that may serve as potential targets for antibiotic therapy or vaccine design.
We describe here a straightforward method for measuring bacterial load (colony forming units [CFU] per tissue) and preparing single-cell suspensions of the liver and spleen for FACS analysis of immune responses in Listeria-infected mice. This method is particularly useful for initial characterization of Listeria infection in novel mouse strains, as well as comparison of immune responses between different mouse strains infected with Listeria. We use the Listeria monocytogenes EGD strain15 that, when cultured on blood agar, exhibits a characteristic halo zone around each colony due to β-hemolysis1 (Figure 1). Bacterial load and immune responses can be determined at any time-point after infection by culturing tissue homogenate on blood agar plates and preparing tissue cell suspensions for FACS analysis using the protocols described below. We would note that individuals who are immunocompromised or pregnant should not handle Listeria, and the relevant institutional biosafety committee and animal facility management should be consulted before work commences.