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1.  “If you bring an alarm, we will destroy it,” said Brucella to the host cell 
Virulence  2014;5(4):460-462.
PMCID: PMC4063807  PMID: 24786767
Brucella; intracellular trafficking; Brucella-containing vacuole; type IV secretion system; pathogenicity; NUDIX enzyme
2.  In Vivo Identification and Characterization of CD4+ Cytotoxic T Cells Induced by Virulent Brucella abortus Infection 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82508.
CD4+ T cells display a variety of helper functions necessary for an efficient adaptive immune response against bacterial invaders. This work reports the in vivo identification and characterization of murine cytotoxic CD4+ T cells (CD4+ CTL) during Brucella abortus infection. These CD4+ CTLs express granzyme B and exhibit immunophenotypic features consistent with fully differentiated T cells. They express CD25, CD44, CD62L ,CD43 molecules at their surface and produce IFN-γ. Moreover, these cells express neither the co-stimulatory molecule CD27 nor the memory T cell marker CD127. We show here that CD4+ CTLs are capable of cytolytic action against Brucella-infected antigen presenting cells (APC) but not against Mycobacterium-infected APC. Cytotoxic CD4+ T cell population appears at early stages of the infection concomitantly with high levels of IFN-γ and granzyme B expression. CD4+ CTLs represent a so far uncharacterized immune cell sub-type triggered by early immune responses upon Brucella abortus infection.
PMCID: PMC3868576  PMID: 24367519
3.  BtpB, a novel Brucella TIR-containing effector protein with immune modulatory functions 
Several bacterial pathogens have TIR domain-containing proteins that contribute to their pathogenesis. We identified a second TIR-containing protein in Brucella spp. that we have designated BtpB. We show it is a potent inhibitor of TLR signaling, probably via MyD88. BtpB is a novel Brucella effector that is translocated into host cells and interferes with activation of dendritic cells. In vivo mouse studies revealed that BtpB is contributing to virulence and control of local inflammatory responses with relevance in the establishment of chronic brucellosis. Together, our results show that BtpB is a novel Brucella effector that plays a major role in the modulation of host innate immune response during infection.
PMCID: PMC3703528  PMID: 23847770
Brucella; TIR domain; Btp1/BtpA; TLR; DC; NF-κB
4.  Brucella Evades Macrophage Killing via VirB-dependent Sustained Interactions with the Endoplasmic Reticulum 
The intracellular pathogen Brucella is the causative agent of brucellosis, a worldwide zoonosis that affects mammals, including humans. Essential to Brucella virulence is its ability to survive and replicate inside host macrophages, yet the underlying mechanisms and the nature of the replicative compartment remain unclear. Here we show in a model of Brucella abortus infection of murine bone marrow–derived macrophages that a fraction of the bacteria that survive an initial macrophage killing proceed to replicate in a compartment segregated from the endocytic pathway. The maturation of the Brucella-containing vacuole involves sustained interactions and fusion with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which creates a replicative compartment with ER-like properties. The acquisition of ER membranes by replicating Brucella is independent of ER-Golgi COPI-dependent vesicular transport. A mutant of the VirB type IV secretion system, which is necessary for intracellular survival, was unable to sustain interactions and fuse with the ER, and was killed via eventual fusion with lysosomes. Thus, we demonstrate that live intracellular Brucella evade macrophage killing through VirB-dependent sustained interactions with the ER. Moreover, we assign an intracellular function to the VirB system, as being required for late maturation events necessary for the biogenesis of an ER-derived replicative organelle.
PMCID: PMC2194179  PMID: 12925673
macrophage; Brucella; endoplasmic reticulum; type IV secretion; trafficking
5.  Bartonella and Brucella—Weapons and Strategies for Stealth Attack 
Bartonella spp. and Brucella spp. are closely related α-proteobacterial pathogens that by distinct stealth-attack strategies cause chronic infections in mammals including humans. Human infections manifest by a broad spectrum of clinical symptoms, ranging from mild to fatal disease. Both pathogens establish intracellular replication niches and subvert diverse pathways of the host’s immune system. Several virulence factors allow them to adhere to, invade, proliferate, and persist within various host-cell types. In particular, type IV secretion systems (T4SS) represent essential virulence factors that transfer effector proteins tailored to recruit host components and modulate cellular processes to the benefit of the bacterial intruders. This article puts the remarkable features of these two pathogens into perspective, highlighting the mechanisms they use to hijack signaling and trafficking pathways of the host as the basis for their stealthy infection strategies.
Via analogous mechanisms, Bartonella and Brucella invade cells using (1) cell-surface molecules that mediate host–pathogen interactions, and (2) type IV secretion systems that produce effectors to manipulate host cells.
PMCID: PMC3721268  PMID: 23906880
6.  Brucella abortus Induces the Premature Death of Human Neutrophils through the Action of Its Lipopolysaccharide 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(5):e1004853.
Most bacterial infections induce the activation of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs), enhance their microbicidal function, and promote the survival of these leukocytes for protracted periods of time. Brucella abortus is a stealthy pathogen that evades innate immunity, barely activates PMNs, and resists the killing mechanisms of these phagocytes. Intriguing clinical signs observed during brucellosis are the low numbers of Brucella infected PMNs in the target organs and neutropenia in a proportion of the patients; features that deserve further attention. Here we demonstrate that B. abortus prematurely kills human PMNs in a dose-dependent and cell-specific manner. Death of PMNs is concomitant with the intracellular Brucella lipopolysaccharide (Br-LPS) release within vacuoles. This molecule and its lipid A reproduce the premature cell death of PMNs, a phenomenon associated to the low production of proinflammatory cytokines. Blocking of CD14 but not TLR4 prevents the Br-LPS-induced cell death. The PMNs cell death departs from necrosis, NETosis and classical apoptosis. The mechanism of PMN cell death is linked to the activation of NADPH-oxidase and a modest but steadily increase of ROS mediators. These effectors generate DNA damage, recruitments of check point kinase 1, caspases 5 and to minor extent of caspase 4, RIP1 and Ca++ release. The production of IL-1β by PMNs was barely stimulated by B. abortus infection or Br-LPS treatment. Likewise, inhibition of caspase 1 did not hamper the Br-LPS induced PMN cell death, suggesting that the inflammasome pathway was not involved. Although activation of caspases 8 and 9 was observed, they did not seem to participate in the initial triggering mechanisms, since inhibition of these caspases scarcely blocked PMN cell death. These findings suggest a mechanism for neutropenia in chronic brucellosis and reveal a novel Brucella-host cross-talk through which B. abortus is able to hinder the innate function of PMN.
Author Summary
The absence of obvious clinical symptoms during the early stages of brucellosis is linked to the Brucella stealthy strategy and its non-canonical PAMPs, which are low PRRs agonists. Still, there are clinical profiles that require explanation. For instance ‒despite the fact that neutrophils readily ingest Brucella during the onset of infection, brucellosis courses without neutrophilia, and just a low number of infected neutrophils are present in target organs. In the chronic phases, a significant proportion of the patients display absolute neutropenia and bone marrow pancytopenia linked to the myeloid cell linage. Examination of the Brucella infected bone marrow reveals granulomas and phagocytosis of myeloid cells. Based on these observations we explored the fate of native neutrophils during their interaction with Brucella. We found that the bacterium induces the premature cell death of neutrophils without inducing proinflammatory phenotypic changes. This event was reproduced by the lipid A of the Brucella LPS and depends on NADPH-oxidase activation and low ROS formation. We believe that this phenomenon explains ‒at least in part‒ the hematological and histological profiles observed during brucellosis. In addition, it may be that dying Brucella-infected neutrophils serve as “Trojan horse” vehicles for infecting phagocytic cells without promoting activation.
PMCID: PMC4422582  PMID: 25946018
7.  Cervical Lymph Nodes as a Selective Niche for Brucella during Oral Infections 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(4):e0121790.
Cervical lymph nodes (CLN) are the first lymph nodes encountered by material taking the oral route. To study their role in orally acquired infections, we analyzed 307 patients of up to 14 years treated in the university clinic of Skopje, Macedonia, for brucellosis, a zoonotic bacterial disease frequently acquired by ingestion of contaminated dairy products. From these children, 36% had lymphadenopathy. Among orally infected children, lymphadenopathy with CLN being the only lymph nodes affected was significantly more frequent as compared to those infected by contact with animals (83% vs. 63%), suggesting a possible involvement of CLN during orally acquired human brucellosis. Using a murine model where bacteria are delivered into the oral cavity, we show that Brucella quickly and selectively colonize the CLN where they proliferate and persist over long periods of time for up to 50 days post-infection. A similar efficient though less specific drainage to CLN was found for Brucella, Salmonella typhimurium and fluorescent microspheres delivered by gavage, a pathway likely representing a mixed infection mode of intragastric and oral infection, suggesting a central pathway of drained material. Microspheres as well as bacteria drained to CLN predominately reside in cells expressing CD68 and no or low levels of CD11c. Even though no systemic response could be detected, Brucella induced a locally restricted inflammatory reaction with increased expression levels of interferon γ, interleukin (IL)-6, IL-12, granzyme B and a delayed induction of Nos2. Inflammation led to pronounced lymphadenopathy, infiltration of macrophages/monocytes expressing high levels of major histocompatibility complex II and to formation of epitheloid granulomas. Together, these results highlight the role of CLN in oral infections as both, an initial and efficient trap for bacterial invaders and as possible reservoir for chronic pathogens. They likewise cast a new light on the significance of oral routes for means of vaccination.
PMCID: PMC4412401  PMID: 25919005
8.  Escherichia coli α-Hemolysin Counteracts the Anti-Virulence Innate Immune Response Triggered by the Rho GTPase Activating Toxin CNF1 during Bacteremia 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(3):e1004732.
The detection of the activities of pathogen-encoded virulence factors by the innate immune system has emerged as a new paradigm of pathogen recognition. Much remains to be determined with regard to the molecular and cellular components contributing to this defense mechanism in mammals and importance during infection. Here, we reveal the central role of the IL-1β signaling axis and Gr1+ cells in controlling the Escherichia coli burden in the blood in response to the sensing of the Rho GTPase-activating toxin CNF1. Consistently, this innate immune response is abrogated in caspase-1/11-impaired mice or following the treatment of infected mice with an IL-1β antagonist. In vitro experiments further revealed the synergistic effects of CNF1 and LPS in promoting the maturation/secretion of IL-1β and establishing the roles of Rac, ASC and caspase-1 in this pathway. Furthermore, we found that the α-hemolysin toxin inhibits IL-1β secretion without affecting the recruitment of Gr1+ cells. Here, we report the first example of anti-virulence-triggered immunity counteracted by a pore-forming toxin during bacteremia.
Author Summary
The pathogenic potentials of most microbes depend on a repertoire of virulence factors. Despite major progress in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the activities of bacterial effectors, little is known about how they cooperate during infection to overcome host immune defenses and promote microbial persistence. Here, we investigated the roles of two uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) effectors that are co-ordinately expressed, α-hemolysin (HlyA) and cytotoxic necrotizing factor 1 (CNF1). We demonstrated that the HlyA toxin is critical for bacterial stability in the blood and showed that one important role of HlyA is to inhibit the CNF1-induced host response. Collectively, these findings reveal why the coordinated activities of HlyA and CNF1 are necessary for the full virulence of UPEC. Moreover, they unravel a HlyA-driven counter-defense mechanism used by bacteria to facilitate their survival.
PMCID: PMC4363529  PMID: 25781937
9.  Intracellular Bacteria Interfere with Dendritic Cell Functions: Role of the Type I Interferon Pathway 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99420.
Dendritic cells (DCs) orchestrate host defenses against microorganisms. In infectious diseases due to intracellular bacteria, the inefficiency of the immune system to eradicate microorganisms has been attributed to the hijacking of DC functions. In this study, we selected intracellular bacterial pathogens with distinct lifestyles and explored the responses of monocyte-derived DCs (moDCs). Using lipopolysaccharide as a control, we found that Orientia tsutsugamushi, the causative agent of scrub typhus that survives in the cytosol of target cells, induced moDC maturation, as assessed by decreased endocytosis activity, the ability to induce lymphocyte proliferation and the membrane expression of phenotypic markers. In contrast, Coxiella burnetii, the agent of Q fever, and Brucella abortus, the agent of brucellosis, both of which reside in vacuolar compartments, only partly induced the maturation of moDCs, as demonstrated by a phenotypic analysis. To analyze the mechanisms used by C. burnetii and B. abortus to alter moDC activation, we performed microarray and found that C. burnetii and B. abortus induced a specific signature consisting of TLR4, TLR3, STAT1 and interferon response genes. These genes were down-modulated in response to C. burnetii and B. abortus but up-modulated in moDCs activated by lipopolysaccharide and O. tsutsugamushi. This transcriptional alteration was associated with the defective interferon-β production. This study demonstrates that intracellular bacteria specifically affect moDC responses and emphasizes how C. burnetii and B. abortus interfere with moDC activation and the antimicrobial immune response. We believe that comparing infection by several bacterial species may be useful for defining new pathways and biomarkers and for developing new treatment strategies.
PMCID: PMC4051653  PMID: 24915541
10.  Myeloid decidual dendritic cells and immunoregulation of pregnancy: defective responsiveness to Coxiella burnetii and Brucella abortus 
Dendritic cells (DCs) are a component of the placental immune system, but their role in pregnancy is still poorly understood. Decidual DCs (dDCs) were selected from at-term pregnancy on the basis of CD14 and CD11c expression. A phenotypic analysis revealed that dDCs are characterized by the expression of monocyte-derived DC (moDCs) markers and specific markers such as HLA-G and its ligand ILT4. As demonstrated by whole-genome microarray, dDCs expressed a specific gene program markedly distinct from that of moDCs; it included estrogen- and progesterone-regulated genes and genes encoding immunoregulatory cytokines, which is consistent with the context of foeto-maternal tolerance. A functional analysis of dDCs showed that they were unable to mature in response to bacterial ligands such as lipopolysaccharide or peptidoglycan, as assessed by the expression of HLA-DR, CD80, CD83, and CD86. When dDCs were incubated with bacteria known for their placenta tropism, Coxiella burnetii and Brucella abortus, they were also unable to mature and to produce inflammatory cytokines. It is likely that the defective maturation of dDCs and their inability to produce inflammatory cytokines is related to the spontaneous release of IL-10 by these cells. Taken together, these results suggest that dDCs exhibit an immunoregulatory program, which may favor the pathogenicity of C. burnetii or B. abortus.
PMCID: PMC4275036  PMID: 25566514
placenta; dendritic cell; phenotype; microarray; immunoregulation
11.  A Toxin-Antitoxin Module of Salmonella Promotes Virulence in Mice 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(12):e1003827.
Toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules are widely prevalent in both bacteria and archaea. Originally described as stabilizing elements of plasmids, TA modules are also widespread on bacterial chromosomes. These modules promote bacterial persistence in response to specific environmental stresses. So far, the possibility that TA modules could be involved in bacterial virulence has been largely neglected, but recent comparative genomic studies have shown that the presence of TA modules is significantly associated with the pathogenicity of bacteria. Using Salmonella as a model, we investigated whether TA modules help bacteria to overcome the stress conditions encountered during colonization, thereby supporting virulence in the host. By bioinformatics analyses, we found that the genome of the pathogenic bacterium Salmonella Typhimurium encodes at least 11 type II TA modules. Several of these are conserved in other pathogenic strains but absent from non-pathogenic species indicating that certain TA modules might play a role in Salmonella pathogenicity. We show that one TA module, hereafter referred to as sehAB, plays a transient role in virulence in perorally inoculated mice. The use of a transcriptional reporter demonstrated that bacteria in which sehAB is strongly activated are predominantly localized in the mesenteric lymph nodes. In addition, sehAB was shown to be important for the survival of Salmonella in these peripheral lymphoid organs. These data indicate that the transient activation of a type II TA module can bring a selective advantage favouring virulence and demonstrate that TA modules are engaged in Salmonella pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3868539  PMID: 24385907
12.  Neutrophils Exert a Suppressive Effect on Th1 Responses to Intracellular Pathogen Brucella abortus 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(2):e1003167.
Polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) are the first line of defense against microbial pathogens. In addition to their role in innate immunity, PMNs may also regulate events related to adaptive immunity. To investigate the influence of PMNs in the immune response during chronic bacterial infections, we explored the course of brucellosis in antibody PMN-depleted C57BL/6 mice and in neutropenic mutant Genista mouse model. We demonstrate that at later times of infection, Brucella abortus is killed more efficiently in the absence of PMNs than in their presence. The higher bacterial removal was concomitant to the: i) comparatively reduced spleen swelling; ii) augmented infiltration of epithelioid histiocytes corresponding to macrophages/dendritic cells (DCs); iii) higher recruitment of monocytes and monocyte/DCs phenotype; iv) significant activation of B and T lymphocytes, and v) increased levels of INF-γ and negligible levels of IL4 indicating a balance of Th1 over Th2 response. These results reveal that PMNs have an unexpected influence in dampening the immune response against intracellular Brucella infection and strengthen the notion that PMNs actively participate in regulatory circuits shaping both innate and adaptive immunity.
Author Summary
In some diseases the predominant cells recruited are PMNs while in others are mononuclear leukocytes. Traditionally, this marked the difference between acute and chronic infections, a perspective reinforced by in vivo models in which immune cells are depleted by means of antibodies. However, these models have several drawbacks and knock-out mice were generated to dissect the functionality of immune cells. Despite this, the study of PMNs in infections in which adaptive immunity plays a role has been precluded by the absence of long-lasting neutropenic models. A mouse strain named Genista, in which the defect is the absence of PMNs has been developed; thus, making possible to explore the role of PMNs during adaptive immunity in chronic infections. We have used Brucella, an intracellular pathogen that avoids degranulation and stands the killing action of PMNs. Instead, Brucella causes chronicity, inducing granulomas, recruitment of macrophages/DCs and a robust adaptive immune response. We found that the absence PMNs is non-lethal and favors Brucella elimination at later times of infection, a phenomenon that correlates with the balance of Th1 over Th2 response. We propose that beside their role in primary bacterial elimination, PMNs can dampen and participate in regulatory circuits of adaptive immune response.
PMCID: PMC3573106  PMID: 23458832
13.  Lipopolysaccharides with Acylation Defects Potentiate TLR4 Signaling and Shape T Cell Responses 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55117.
Lipopolysaccharides or endotoxins are components of Gram-negative enterobacteria that cause septic shock in mammals. However, a LPS carrying hexa-acyl lipid A moieties is highly endotoxic compared to a tetra-acyl LPS and the latter has been considered as an antagonist of hexa-acyl LPS-mediated TLR4 signaling. We investigated the relationship between the structure and the function of bacterial LPS in the context of human and mouse dendritic cell activation. Strikingly, LPS with acylation defects were capable of triggering a strong and early TLR4-dependent DC activation, which in turn led to the activation of the proteasome machinery dampening the pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion. Upon activation with tetra-acyl LPS both mouse and human dendritic cells triggered CD4+ T and CD8+ T cell responses and, importantly, human myeloid dendritic cells favored the induction of regulatory T cells. Altogether, our data suggest that LPS acylation controlled by pathogenic bacteria might be an important strategy to subvert adaptive immunity.
PMCID: PMC3563657  PMID: 23390517
14.  Brucella β 1,2 Cyclic Glucan Is an Activator of Human and Mouse Dendritic Cells 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(11):e1002983.
Bacterial cyclic glucans are glucose polymers that concentrate within the periplasm of alpha-proteobacteria. These molecules are necessary to maintain the homeostasis of the cell envelope by contributing to the osmolarity of Gram negative bacteria. Here, we demonstrate that Brucella β 1,2 cyclic glucans are potent activators of human and mouse dendritic cells. Dendritic cells activation by Brucella β 1,2 cyclic glucans requires TLR4, MyD88 and TRIF, but not CD14. The Brucella cyclic glucans showed neither toxicity nor immunogenicity compared to LPS and triggered antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses in vivo. These cyclic glucans also enhanced antigen-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses including cross-presentation by different human DC subsets. Brucella β 1,2 cyclic glucans increased the memory CD4+ T cell responses of blood mononuclear cells exposed to recombinant fusion proteins composed of anti-CD40 antibody and antigens from both hepatitis C virus and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Thus cyclic glucans represent a new class of adjuvants, which might contribute to the development of effective antimicrobial therapies.
Author Summary
Vaccination is one of the key strategies to fight against infectious diseases though numerous diseases remain without appropriate vaccines. The challenge is to generate potent vaccines capable of inducing long-lasting immunity in humans. Successful vaccines include adjuvants that enhance and appropriately skew the immune response to given antigens. The development of new adjuvants for human vaccines has become an expanding field of research. Here we show that bacterial cyclic β-glucans can be used to enhance cellular immunity by activation of dendritic cells, from both mice and humans. In particular, Cyclic-β glucans enhance the in vitro memory CD4+ T cell responses of patients suffering from hepatitis C and tuberculosis. Thus cyclic-β glucans are new adjuvants, which might be used in vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3499565  PMID: 23166489
15.  In search of Brucella abortus Type IV secretion substrates: screening and identification of four proteins translocated into host cells through VirB system 
Cellular microbiology  2011;13(8):1261-1274.
Type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are specialized protein complexes used by many bacterial pathogens for the delivery of effector molecules that subvert varied host cellular processes. Brucella spp. are facultative intracellular pathogens capable of survival and replication inside mammalian cells. Brucella T4SS (VirB) is essential to subvert lysosome fusion and to create an organelle permissive for replication. One possible role for VirB is to translocate effector proteins that modulate host cellular functions for the biogenesis of the replicative organelle. We hypothesized that proteins with eukaryotic domains or protein-protein interaction domains, among others, would be good candidates for modulation of host cell functions. To identify these candidates, we performed an in silico screen looking for proteins with distinctive features. Translocation of 84 potential substrates was assayed using adenylate cyclase reporter. By this approach, we identified six proteins that are delivered to the eukaryotic cytoplasm upon infection of macrophage-like cells and we could determine that four of them, encoded by genes BAB1_1043, BAB1_2005, BAB1_1275 and BAB2_0123, require a functional T4SS for their delivery. We confirmed VirB-mediated translocation of one of the substrates by immunofluorescence confocal microscopy, and we found that the N-terminal 25 amino acids are required for its delivery into cells.
PMCID: PMC3139020  PMID: 21707904
16.  The Lipopolysaccharide Core of Brucella abortus Acts as a Shield Against Innate Immunity Recognition 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002675.
Innate immunity recognizes bacterial molecules bearing pathogen-associated molecular patterns to launch inflammatory responses leading to the activation of adaptive immunity. However, the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) of the gram-negative bacterium Brucella lacks a marked pathogen-associated molecular pattern, and it has been postulated that this delays the development of immunity, creating a gap that is critical for the bacterium to reach the intracellular replicative niche. We found that a B. abortus mutant in the wadC gene displayed a disrupted LPS core while keeping both the LPS O-polysaccharide and lipid A. In mice, the wadC mutant induced proinflammatory responses and was attenuated. In addition, it was sensitive to killing by non-immune serum and bactericidal peptides and did not multiply in dendritic cells being targeted to lysosomal compartments. In contrast to wild type B. abortus, the wadC mutant induced dendritic cell maturation and secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines. All these properties were reproduced by the wadC mutant purified LPS in a TLR4-dependent manner. Moreover, the core-mutated LPS displayed an increased binding to MD-2, the TLR4 co-receptor leading to subsequent increase in intracellular signaling. Here we show that Brucella escapes recognition in early stages of infection by expressing a shield against recognition by innate immunity in its LPS core and identify a novel virulence mechanism in intracellular pathogenic gram-negative bacteria. These results also encourage for an improvement in the generation of novel bacterial vaccines.
Author Summary
Brucellosis is one of the most extended bacterial zoonosis in the world and an important cause of economic losses and human suffering. The causative agents belong to the genus Brucella, a group of highly infectious gram-negative bacteria characterized by their ability to escape early detection by innate immunity. This stealthy behavior effectively delays the development of immunity, creating a gap that is used by the bacterium to penetrate into a variety of cells and to activate complementary virulence mechanisms such as the type IV secretion system. By this manner, the brucellae divert intracellular trafficking to reach a safe multiplication niche and establish chronic infections. Our results show that an inner section of the Brucella LPS (a molecule that in most bacteria is detected by innate immunity), effectively contributes to block recognition by soluble molecules and cellular receptors of the host innate immune system. Accordingly, a mutation disrupting the inner but no other lipopolysaccharide sections generates attenuation by impairing the stealthiness characteristics of this pathogen. This is the first Brucella mutant in which attenuation is specifically linked to the bolstering of immunity against this pathogen. Therefore, this new virulence mechanism opens the way for the development of improved bacterial vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3349745  PMID: 22589715
17.  What have we learned from brucellosis in the mouse model? 
Veterinary Research  2012;43(1):29.
Brucellosis is a zoonosis caused by Brucella species. Brucellosis research in natural hosts is often precluded by practical, economical and ethical reasons and mice are widely used. However, mice are not natural Brucella hosts and the course of murine brucellosis depends on bacterial strain virulence, dose and inoculation route as well as breed, genetic background, age, sex and physiological statu of mice. Therefore, meaningful experiments require a definition of these variables. Brucella spleen replication profiles are highly reproducible and course in four phases: i), onset or spleen colonization (first 48 h); ii), acute phase, from the third day to the time when bacteria reach maximal numbers; iii), chronic steady phase, where bacterial numbers plateaus; and iv), chronic declining phase, during which brucellae are eliminated. This pattern displays clear physiopathological signs and is sensitive to small virulence variations, making possible to assess attenuation when fully virulent bacteria are used as controls. Similarly, immunity studies using mice with known defects are possible. Mutations affecting INF-γ, TLR9, Myd88, Tγδ and TNF-β favor Brucella replication; whereas IL-1β, IL-18, TLR4, TLR5, TLR2, NOD1, NOD2, GM-CSF, IL/17r, Rip2, TRIF, NK or Nramp1 deficiencies have no noticeable effects. Splenomegaly development is also useful: it correlates with IFN-γ and IL-12 levels and with Brucella strain virulence. The genetic background is also important: Brucella-resistant mice (C57BL) yield lower splenic bacterial replication and less splenomegaly than susceptible breeds. When inoculum is increased, a saturating dose above which bacterial numbers per organ do not augment, is reached. Unlike many gram-negative bacteria, lethal doses are large (≥ 108 bacteria/mouse) and normally higher than the saturating dose. Persistence is a useful virulence/attenuation index and is used in vaccine (Residual Virulence) quality control. Vaccine candidates are also often tested in mice by determining splenic Brucella numbers after challenging with appropriate virulent brucellae doses at precise post-vaccination times. Since most live or killed Brucella vaccines provide some protection in mice, controls immunized with reference vaccines (S19 or Rev1) are critical. Finally, mice have been successfully used to evaluate brucellosis therapies. It is concluded that, when used properly, the mouse is a valuable brucellosis model.
PMCID: PMC3410789  PMID: 22500859
18.  Brucella abortus Ornithine Lipids Are Dispensable Outer Membrane Components Devoid of a Marked Pathogen-Associated Molecular Pattern 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16030.
The brucellae are α-Proteobacteria facultative intracellular parasites that cause an important zoonosis. These bacteria escape early detection by innate immunity, an ability associated to the absence of marked pathogen-associated molecular patterns in the cell envelope lipopolysaccharide, lipoproteins and flagellin. We show here that, in contrast to the outer membrane ornithine lipids (OL) of other Gram negative bacteria, Brucella abortus OL lack a marked pathogen-associated molecular pattern activity. We identified two OL genes (olsB and olsA) and by generating the corresponding mutants found that olsB deficient B. abortus did not synthesize OL or their lyso-OL precursors. Liposomes constructed with B. abortus OL did not trigger IL-6 or TNF-α release by macrophages whereas those constructed with Bordetella pertussis OL and the olsB mutant lipids as carriers were highly active. The OL deficiency in the olsB mutant did not promote proinflammatory responses or generated attenuation in mice. In addition, OL deficiency did not increase sensitivity to polymyxins, normal serum or complement consumption, or alter the permeability to antibiotics and dyes. Taken together, these observations indicate that OL have become dispensable in the extant brucellae and are consistent within the trend observed in α-Proteobacteria animal pathogens to reduce and eventually eliminate the envelope components susceptible of recognition by innate immunity.
PMCID: PMC3017556  PMID: 21249206
19.  The Brucella abortus Phosphoglycerate Kinase Mutant Is Highly Attenuated and Induces Protection Superior to That of Vaccine Strain 19 in Immunocompromised and Immunocompetent Mice ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(5):2283-2291.
Brucella abortus is a facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen that causes abortion in domestic animals and undulant fever in humans. The mechanism of virulence of Brucella spp. is not yet fully understood. Therefore, it is crucial to identify new molecules that can function as virulence factors to better understand the host-pathogen interplay. Herein, we identified the gene encoding the phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) of B. abortus strain 2308. To test the role of PGK in Brucella pathogenesis, a pgk deletion mutant was constructed. Replacement of the wild-type pgk by recombination was demonstrated by Southern and Western blot analyses. The B. abortus Δpgk mutant strain exhibited extreme attenuation in bone marrow-derived macrophages and in vivo in BALB/c, C57BL/6, 129/Sv, and interferon regulatory factor-1 knockout (IRF-1 KO) mice. Additionally, at 24 h postinfection the Δpgk mutant was not found within the same endoplasmic reticulum-derived compartment as the wild-type bacteria, but, instead, over 60% of Brucella-containing vacuoles (BCVs) retained the late endosomal/lysosomal marker LAMP1. Furthermore, the B. abortus Δpgk deletion mutant was used as a live vaccine. Challenge experiments revealed that the Δpgk mutant strain induced protective immunity in 129/Sv or IRF-1 KO mice that was superior to the protection conferred by commercial strain 19 or RB51. Finally, the results shown here demonstrated that Brucella PGK is critical for full bacterial virulence and that a Δpgk mutant may serve as a potential vaccine candidate in future studies.
PMCID: PMC2863508  PMID: 20194591
20.  The Virulence Protein SopD2 Regulates Membrane Dynamics of Salmonella-Containing Vacuoles 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(7):e1001002.
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium is a Gram-negative bacterial pathogen causing gastroenteritis in humans and a systemic typhoid-like illness in mice. The capacity of Salmonella to cause diseases relies on the establishment of its intracellular replication niche, a membrane-bound compartment named the Salmonella-containing vacuole (SCV). This requires the translocation of bacterial effector proteins into the host cell by type three secretion systems. Among these effectors, SifA is required for the SCV stability, the formation of Salmonella-induced filaments (SIFs) and plays an important role in the virulence of Salmonella. Here we show that the effector SopD2 is responsible for the SCV instability that triggers the cytoplasmic release of a sifA− mutant. Deletion of sopD2 also rescued intra-macrophagic replication and increased virulence of sifA− mutants in mice. Membrane tubular structures that extend from the SCV are the hallmark of Salmonella-infected cells. Until now, these unique structures have not been observed in the absence of SifA. The deletion of sopD2 in a sifA− mutant strain re-established membrane trafficking from the SCV and led to the formation of new membrane tubular structures, the formation of which is dependent on other Salmonella effector(s). Taken together, our data demonstrate that SopD2 inhibits the vesicular transport and the formation of tubules that extend outward from the SCV and thereby contributes to the sifA− associated phenotypes. These results also highlight the antagonistic roles played by SopD2 and SifA in the membrane dynamics of the vacuole, and the complex actions of SopD2, SifA, PipB2 and other unidentified effector(s) in the biogenesis and maintenance of the Salmonella replicative niche.
Author Summary
Salmonella typhimurium is a bacterial pathogen that causes diseases ranging from gastroenteritis to typhoid fever. This bacterium survives inside eukaryotic cells within a membrane-bound compartment, namely the Salmonella-containing vacuole. Salmonella injects proteins, named effectors, into the infected cell. These effectors change the biology of the infected cell and collectively support Salmonella replication and virulence. The effector SifA plays a key role in the bacterial vacuole stability and in the formation of membrane tubules that extend from the vacuole. Absence of SifA leads to the disruption of the vacuolar membrane and, therefore to the release of bacteria in the cytosolic compartment. Consequently, this mutant presents significant replication and virulence defects. Here, we show that an additional Salmonella effector, SopD2, is responsible for the membrane instability of the sifA− vacuole. In addition, we demonstrate that SopD2 acts as an inhibitor of vesicle transport from the vacuole and that it down-modulates the formation of tubular structures. These findings describe a role for SopD2 as an antagonist of SifA in terms of vacuolar membrane dynamics.
PMCID: PMC2904799  PMID: 20664790
21.  Helicobacter pylori Impairs Murine Dendritic Cell Responses to Infection 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10844.
Helicobacter pylori, a human pathogen associated with chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer and gastric malignancies, is generally viewed as an extracellular microorganism. Here, we show that H. pylori replicates in murine bone marrow derived-dendritic cells (BMDCs) within autophagosomes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A 10-fold increase of CFU is found between 2 h and 6 h p.i. in H. pylori-infected BMDCs. Autophagy is induced around the bacterium and participates at late time points of infection for the clearance of intracellular H. pylori. As a consequence of infection, LC3, LAMP1 and MHC class II molecules are retained within the H. pylori-containing vacuoles and export of MHC class II molecules to cell surface is blocked. However, formalin-fixed H. pylori still maintain this inhibitory activity in BMDC derived from wild type mice, but not in from either TLR4 or TLR2-deficient mice, suggesting the involvement of H. pylori-LPS in this process. TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-10 expression was also modulated upon infection showing a TLR2-specific dependent IL-10 secretion. No IL-12 was detected favoring the hypothesis of a down modulation of DC functions during H. pylori infection. Furthermore, antigen-specific T cells proliferation was also impaired upon infection.
H. pylori can infect and replicate in BMDCs and thereby affects DC-mediated immune responses. The implication of this new finding is discussed for the biological life cycle of H. pylori in the host.
PMCID: PMC2877707  PMID: 20523725
22.  Transcriptome Analysis of the Brucella abortus BvrR/BvrS Two-Component Regulatory System 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(4):e10216.
The two-component BvrR/BvrS system is essential for Brucella abortus virulence. It was shown previously that its dysfunction alters the expression of some major outer membrane proteins and the pattern of lipid A acylation. To determine the genes regulated by BvrR/BvrS, we performed a whole-genome microarray analysis using B. abortus RNA obtained from wild type and bvrR mutant cells grown in the same conditions.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A total of 127 differentially expressed genes were found: 83 were over expressed and 44 were less expressed in the bvrR mutant. Two operons, the phosphotransferase system and the maltose transport system, were down-regulated. Several genes involved in cell envelope or outer membrane biogenesis were differentially expressed: genes for outer membrane proteins (omp25a, omp25d), lipoproteins, LPS and fatty acid biosynthesis, stress response proteins, chaperones, flagellar genes, and twelve genes encoding ABC transport systems. Ten genes related with carbon metabolism (pckA and fumB among others) were up-regulated in the bvrR mutant, and denitrification genes (nirK, norC and nosZ) were also regulated. Notably, seven transcriptional regulators were affected, including VjbR, ExoR and OmpR that were less expressed in the bvrR mutant. Finally, the expression of eleven genes which have been previously related with Brucella virulence was also altered.
All these data corroborate the impact of BvrR/BvrS on cell envelope modulation, confirm that this system controls the carbon and nitrogen metabolism, and suggest a cross-talk among some regulators to adjust the Brucella physiology to the shift expected to occur during the transit from the extracellular to the intracellular niche.
PMCID: PMC2858072  PMID: 20422049
23.  The Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase and the Small GTPase Rab 2 Are Crucial for Brucella Replication 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(6):e1000487.
The intracellular pathogen Brucella abortus survives and replicates inside host cells within an endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-derived replicative organelle named the “Brucella-containing vacuole” (BCV). Here, we developed a subcellular fractionation method to isolate BCVs and characterize for the first time the protein composition of its replicative niche. After identification of BCV membrane proteins by 2 dimensional (2D) gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry, we focused on two eukaryotic proteins: the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) and the small GTPase Rab 2 recruited to the vacuolar membrane of Brucella. These proteins were previously described to localize on vesicular and tubular clusters (VTC) and to regulate the VTC membrane traffic between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the Golgi. Inhibition of either GAPDH or Rab 2 expression by small interfering RNA strongly inhibited B. abortus replication. Consistent with this result, inhibition of other partners of GAPDH and Rab 2, such as COPI and PKC ι, reduced B. abortus replication. Furthermore, blockage of Rab 2 GTPase in a GDP-locked form also inhibited B. abortus replication. Bacteria did not fuse with the ER and instead remained in lysosomal-associated membrane vacuoles. These results reveal an essential role for GAPDH and the small GTPase Rab 2 in B. abortus virulence within host cells.
Author Summary
A key determinant for intracellular pathogenic bacteria to ensure their virulence within host cells is their ability to bypass the endocytic pathway and to reach a safe replication niche. Brucella bacteria reach the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to create their replicating niche called the Brucella-containing vacuole (BCV). The ER is a suitable strategic place for pathogenic Brucella. Bacteria can be hidden from host cell defences to persist within the host, and can take advantage of the membrane reservoir delivered by the ER to replicate. Interactions between BCV and the ER lead to the presence of ER proteins on the BCV membrane. Currently, no other proteins (eukaryotic or prokaryotic) have yet been associated with the BCV membrane. Here we show that non-ER related proteins are also present on the BCV membrane, in particular, the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) and the small GTPase Rab 2 known to be located on secretory vesicles that traffic between the ER and the Golgi apparatus. GAPDH and the small GTPase Rab 2 are involved in Brucella replication at late post-infection. Similarly, integrity of secretory vesicle trafficking is also necessary for Brucella replication. Here, we show that recruitment of the two eukaryotic proteins GAPDH and Rab 2 on BCV membranes is necessary for the establishment of the replicative niche by sustaining interactions between the ER and secretory membrane vesicles.
PMCID: PMC2695806  PMID: 19557163
24.  The Differential Interaction of Brucella and Ochrobactrum with Innate Immunity Reveals Traits Related to the Evolution of Stealthy Pathogens 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5893.
During evolution, innate immunity has been tuned to recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns. However, some α-Proteobacteria are stealthy intracellular pathogens not readily detected by this system. Brucella members follow this strategy and are highly virulent, but other Brucellaceae like Ochrobactrum are rhizosphere inhabitants and only opportunistic pathogens. To gain insight into the emergence of the stealthy strategy, we compared these two phylogenetically close but biologically divergent bacteria.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In contrast to Brucella abortus, Ochrobactrum anthropi did not replicate within professional and non-professional phagocytes and, whereas neutrophils had a limited action on B. abortus, they were essential to control O. anthropi infections. O. anthropi triggered proinflammatory responses markedly lower than Salmonella enterica but higher than B. abortus. In macrophages and dendritic cells, the corresponding lipopolysaccharides reproduced these grades of activation, and binding of O. anthropi lipopolysaccharide to the TLR4 co-receptor MD-2 and NF-κB induction laid between those of B. abortus and enteric bacteria lipopolysaccharides. These differences correlate with reported variations in lipopolysaccharide core sugars, sensitivity to bactericidal peptides and outer membrane permeability.
The results suggest that Brucellaceae ancestors carried molecules not readily recognized by innate immunity, so that non-drastic variations led to the emergence of stealthy intracellular parasites. They also suggest that some critical envelope properties, like selective permeability, are profoundly altered upon modification of pathogen-associated molecular patterns, and that this represents a further adaptation to the host. It is proposed that this adaptive trend is relevant in other intracellular α-Proteobacteria like Bartonella, Rickettsia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia and Wolbachia.
PMCID: PMC2691993  PMID: 19529776
25.  Brucellosis Vaccines: Assessment of Brucella melitensis Lipopolysaccharide Rough Mutants Defective in Core and O-Polysaccharide Synthesis and Export 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2760.
The brucellae are facultative intracellular bacteria that cause brucellosis, one of the major neglected zoonoses. In endemic areas, vaccination is the only effective way to control this disease. Brucella melitensis Rev 1 is a vaccine effective against the brucellosis of sheep and goat caused by B. melitensis, the commonest source of human infection. However, Rev 1 carries a smooth lipopolysaccharide with an O-polysaccharide that elicits antibodies interfering in serodiagnosis, a major problem in eradication campaigns. Because of this, rough Brucella mutants lacking the O-polysaccharide have been proposed as vaccines.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To examine the possibilities of rough vaccines, we screened B. melitensis for lipopolysaccharide genes and obtained mutants representing all main rough phenotypes with regard to core oligosaccharide and O-polysaccharide synthesis and export. Using the mouse model, mutants were classified into four attenuation patterns according to their multiplication and persistence in spleens at different doses. In macrophages, mutants belonging to three of these attenuation patterns reached the Brucella characteristic intracellular niche and multiplied intracellularly, suggesting that they could be suitable vaccine candidates. Virulence patterns, intracellular behavior and lipopolysaccharide defects roughly correlated with the degree of protection afforded by the mutants upon intraperitoneal vaccination of mice. However, when vaccination was applied by the subcutaneous route, only two mutants matched the protection obtained with Rev 1 albeit at doses one thousand fold higher than this reference vaccine. These mutants, which were blocked in O-polysaccharide export and accumulated internal O-polysaccharides, stimulated weak anti-smooth lipopolysaccharide antibodies.
The results demonstrate that no rough mutant is equal to Rev 1 in laboratory models and question the notion that rough vaccines are suitable for the control of brucellosis in endemic areas.
PMCID: PMC2453230  PMID: 18648644

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