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1.  Mycobacteria and the Greasy Macrophage: Getting Fat and Frustrated 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(2):472-475.
In the current issue of Infection and Immunity, Caire-Brändli and coworkers (Infect. Immun. 82:476–490, 2014, doi:10.1128/IAI.01196-13) describe a novel cell system for studying mycobacterial interactions with foamy macrophages and provide a magnificent series of electron microscopy-based observations providing major insight into the microbiology and cell biology of these interactions.
PMCID: PMC3911384  PMID: 24478063
2.  Mycobacterium tuberculosis nitrogen assimilation and host colonization require aspartate 
Nature chemical biology  2013;9(11):10.1038/nchembio.1355.
Here we identify the amino acid transporter AnsP1 as the unique aspartate importer in the human pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Metabolomic analysis of a mutant inactivated in AnsP1 revealed the transporter is essential for M. tuberculosis to assimilate nitrogen from aspartate. Virulence of the AnsP1 mutant is impaired in vivo, revealing aspartate is a primary nitrogen source required for host colonization by the tuberculosis bacillus.
PMCID: PMC3856356  PMID: 24077180
3.  Mycobacterium tuberculosis Exploits Asparagine to Assimilate Nitrogen and Resist Acid Stress during Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(2):e1003928.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is an intracellular pathogen. Within macrophages, M. tuberculosis thrives in a specialized membrane-bound vacuole, the phagosome, whose pH is slightly acidic, and where access to nutrients is limited. Understanding how the bacillus extracts and incorporates nutrients from its host may help develop novel strategies to combat tuberculosis. Here we show that M. tuberculosis employs the asparagine transporter AnsP2 and the secreted asparaginase AnsA to assimilate nitrogen and resist acid stress through asparagine hydrolysis and ammonia release. While the role of AnsP2 is partially spared by yet to be identified transporter(s), that of AnsA is crucial in both phagosome acidification arrest and intracellular replication, as an M. tuberculosis mutant lacking this asparaginase is ultimately attenuated in macrophages and in mice. Our study provides yet another example of the intimate link between physiology and virulence in the tubercle bacillus, and identifies a novel pathway to be targeted for therapeutic purposes.
Author Summary
Tuberculosis (TB) is still responsible for nearly 1.3 million deaths annually. There is an urgent need to identify novel drug targets in the tubercle bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, in order to develop novel therapeutics. To proliferate inside its human host, and ensure its spreading, M. tuberculosis must adapt its nutritional requirements and metabolism to the molecular environment it encounters during infection. Elucidating the origin, nature, and acquisition mechanisms of the nutrients required by M. tuberculosis inside its host may help identify targets for novel antimicrobials. In this study we asked how the TB bacillus acquires nitrogen, a vital constituent of all living organisms, from host tissues. We show the amino acid asparagine to be an important source of nitrogen for the bacillus, and we identify two bacterial proteins, AnsP2 and AnsA, that allow the pathogen to capture and ‘digest’ asparagine, respectively. In addition, we report that asparagine ‘digestion’ allows the pathogen to resist the host immune defense and to survive inside host cells and tissues. This study paves the way for future research into M. tuberculosis nitrogen metabolism, and for the development of alternative therapeutic strategies to impair nitrogen acquisition by the bacillus and treat patients with TB.
PMCID: PMC3930563  PMID: 24586151
4.  Playing hide-and-seek with host macrophages through the use of mycobacterial cell envelope phthiocerol dimycocerosates and phenolic glycolipids 
Mycobacterial pathogens, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiological agent of tuberculosis (TB), have evolved a remarkable ability to evade the immune system in order to survive and to colonize the host. Among the most important evasion strategies is the capacity of these bacilli to parasitize host macrophages, since these are major effector cells against intracellular pathogens that can be used as long-term cellular reservoirs. Mycobacterial pathogens employ an array of virulence factors that manipulate macrophage function to survive and establish infection. Until recently, however, the role of mycobacterial cell envelope lipids as virulence factors in macrophage subversion has remained elusive. Here, we will address exclusively the proposed role for phthiocerol dimycocerosates (DIM) in the modulation of the resident macrophage response and that of phenolic glycolipids (PGL) in the regulation of the recruitment and phenotype of incoming macrophage precursors to the site of infection. We will provide a unique perspective of potential additional functions for these lipids, and highlight obstacles and opportunities to further understand their role in the pathogenesis of TB and other mycobacterial diseases.
PMCID: PMC4260522  PMID: 25538905
mycobacteria; pathogens; virulence; lipids; macrophages; immune responses
5.  High Throughput Phenotypic Selection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis Mutants with Impaired Resistance to Reactive Oxygen Species Identifies Genes Important for Intracellular Growth 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53486.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis has the remarkable capacity to survive within the hostile environment of the macrophage, and to resist potent antibacterial molecules such as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Thus, understanding mycobacterial resistance mechanisms against ROS may contribute to the development of new anti-tuberculosis therapies. Here we identified genes involved in such mechanisms by screening a high-density transposon mutant library, and we show that several of them are involved in the intracellular lifestyle of the pathogen. Many of these genes were found to play a part in cell envelope functions, further strengthening the important role of the mycobacterial cell envelope in protection against aggressions such as the ones caused by ROS inside host cells.
PMCID: PMC3540035  PMID: 23320090
6.  Actin-binding protein regulation by microRNAs as a novel microbial strategy to modulate phagocytosis by host cells: the case of N-Wasp and miR-142-3p 
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is a successful intracellular pathogen that thrives in macrophages (Mφs). There is a need to better understand how Mtb alters cellular processes like phagolysosome biogenesis, a classical determinant of its pathogenesis. A central feature of this bacteria's strategy is the manipulation of Mφ actin. Here, we examined the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) as a potential mechanism in the regulation of actin-mediated events leading to phagocytosis in the context of mycobacteria infection. Given that non-virulent Mycobacterium smegmatis also controls actin filament assembly to prolong its intracellular survival inside host cells, we performed a global transcriptomic analysis to assess the modulation of miRNAs upon M. smegmatis infection of the murine Mφ cell line, J774A.1. This approach identified miR-142-3p as a key candidate to be involved in the regulation of actin dynamics required in phagocytosis. We unequivocally demonstrate that miR-142-3p targets N-Wasp, an actin-binding protein required during microbial challenge. A gain-of-function approach for miR-142-3p revealed a down-regulation of N-Wasp expression accompanied by a decrease of mycobacteria intake, while a loss-of-function approach yielded the reciprocal increase of the phagocytosis process. Equally important, we show Mtb induces the early expression of miR-142-3p and partially down-regulates N-Wasp protein levels in both the murine J774A.1 cell line and primary human Mφs. As proof of principle, the partial siRNA-mediated knock down of N-Wasp resulted in a decrease of Mtb intake by human Mφs, reflected in lower levels of colony-forming units (CFU) counts over time. We therefore propose the modulation of miRNAs as a novel strategy in mycobacterial infection to control factors involved in actin filament assembly and other early events of phagolysosome biogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3672780  PMID: 23760605
phagocytosis; N-Wasp; miRNA; miR-142-3p; tuberculosis; macrophage; M. tuberculosis; M. smegmatis
7.  A central role for aspartate in Mycobacterium tuberculosis physiology and virulence 
PMCID: PMC3807545  PMID: 24187657
Mycobacterium tuberculosis; macrophage; phagosome; aspartate; nitrogen
8.  Zinc and copper toxicity in host defense against pathogens: Mycobacterium tuberculosis as a model example of an emerging paradigm 
PMCID: PMC3841717  PMID: 24350063
Mycobacterium tuberculosis; macrophage; P-type ATPase; zinc; copper
9.  An Interferon-Related Signature in the Transcriptional Core Response of Human Macrophages to Mycobacterium tuberculosis Infection 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38367.
The W-Beijing family of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) strains is known for its high-prevalence and -virulence, as well as for its genetic diversity, as recently reported by our laboratories and others. However, little is known about how the immune system responds to these strains. To explore this issue, here we used reverse engineering and genome-wide expression profiling of human macrophage-like THP-1 cells infected by different Mtb strains of the W-Beijing family, as well as by the reference laboratory strain H37Rv. Detailed data mining revealed that host cell transcriptome responses to H37Rv and to different strains of the W-Beijing family are similar and overwhelmingly induced during Mtb infections, collectively typifying a robust gene expression signature (“THP1r2Mtb-induced signature”). Analysis of the putative transcription factor binding sites in promoter regions of genes in this signature identified several key regulators, namely STATs, IRF-1, IRF-7, and Oct-1, commonly involved in interferon-related immune responses. The THP1r2Mtb-induced signature appeared to be highly relevant to the interferon-inducible signature recently reported in active pulmonary tuberculosis patients, as revealed by cross-signature and cross-module comparisons. Further analysis of the publicly available transcriptome data from human patients showed that the signature appears to be relevant to active pulmonary tuberculosis patients and their clinical therapy, and be tuberculosis specific. Thus, our results provide an additional layer of information at the transcriptome level on mechanisms involved in host macrophage response to Mtb, which may also implicate the robustness of the cellular defense system that can effectively fight against genetic heterogeneity in this pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3366933  PMID: 22675550
10.  Emerging Trends in the Formation and Function of Tuberculosis Granulomas 
The granuloma is an elaborated aggregate of immune cells found in non-infectious as well as infectious diseases. It is a hallmark of tuberculosis (TB). Predominantly thought as a host-driven strategy to constrain the bacilli and prevent dissemination, recent discoveries indicate the granuloma can also be modulated into an efficient tool to promote microbial pathogenesis. The aim of future studies will certainly focus on better characterization of the mechanisms driving the modulation of the granuloma functions. Here, we provide unique perspectives from both the innate and adaptive immune system in the formation and the role of the TB granuloma. As macrophages (Mϕs) comprise the bulk of granulomas, we highlight the emerging concept of Mϕ polarization and its potential impact in the microbicide response, and other activities, that may ultimately shape the fate of granulomas. Alternatively, we shed light on the ability of B-cells to influence inflammatory status within the granuloma.
PMCID: PMC3538282  PMID: 23308074
macrophage; B-cells; mycobacteria; tuberculosis; granuloma
11.  Comparative miRNA Expression Profiles in Individuals with Latent and Active Tuberculosis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25832.
The mechanism of latent tuberculosis (TB) infection remains elusive. Several host factors that are involved in this complex process were previously identified. Micro RNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous ∼22 nt RNAs that play important regulatory roles in a wide range of biological processes. Several studies demonstrated the clinical usefulness of miRNAs as diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers in various malignancies and in a few nonmalignant diseases. To study the role of miRNAs in the transition from latent to active TB and to discover candidate biomarkers of this transition, we used human miRNA microarrays to probe the transcriptome of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in patients with active TB, latent TB infection (LTBI), and healthy controls. Using the software package BRB Array Tools for data analyses, 17 miRNAs were differentially expressed between the three groups (P<0.01). Hierarchical clustering of the 17 miRNAs expression profiles showed that individuals with active TB clustered independently of individuals with LTBI or from healthy controls. Using the predicted target genes and previously published genome-wide transcriptional profiles, we constructed the regulatory networks of miRNAs that were differentially expressed between active TB and LTBI. The regulatory network revealed that several miRNAs, with previously established functions in hematopoietic cell differentiation and their target genes may be involved in the transition from latent to active TB. These results increase the understanding of the molecular basis of LTBI and confirm that some miRNAs may control gene expression of pathways that are important for the pathogenesis of this infectious disease.
PMCID: PMC3189221  PMID: 22003408
12.  Mycobacterial P1-Type ATPases Mediate Resistance to Zinc Poisoning in Human Macrophages 
Cell Host & Microbe  2011;10(3):248-259.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis thrives within macrophages by residing in phagosomes and preventing them from maturing and fusing with lysosomes. A parallel transcriptional survey of intracellular mycobacteria and their host macrophages revealed signatures of heavy metal poisoning. In particular, mycobacterial genes encoding heavy metal efflux P-type ATPases CtpC, CtpG, and CtpV, and host cell metallothioneins and zinc exporter ZnT1, were induced during infection. Consistent with this pattern of gene modulation, we observed a burst of free zinc inside macrophages, and intraphagosomal zinc accumulation within a few hours postinfection. Zinc exposure led to rapid CtpC induction, and ctpC deficiency caused zinc retention within the mycobacterial cytoplasm, leading to impaired intracellular growth of the bacilli. Thus, the use of P1-type ATPases represents a M. tuberculosis strategy to neutralize the toxic effects of zinc in macrophages. We propose that heavy metal toxicity and its counteraction might represent yet another chapter in the host-microbe arms race.
► Zinc accumulates in the M. tuberculosis (Mtb) phagosome in macrophages (Mϕ) ► Mtb P1-type ATPases, including CtpC, are induced upon exposure to zinc inside Mϕ ► CtpC enables Mtb resistance to zinc poisoning and intracellular survival in Mϕ ► P1-type zinc efflux ATPase ZntA null E. coli is highly susceptible to Mϕ killing
PMCID: PMC3221041  PMID: 21925112
13.  Macrophage Polarization: Convergence Point Targeted by Mycobacterium Tuberculosis and HIV 
In the arms race of host–microbe co-evolution, macrophages (Mɸs) have been endowed with strategies to neutralize pathogenic challenge while preserving host integrity. During steady-states conditions, Mɸs perform multiple house-keeping functions governed by their differentiation state, tissue distribution, and signals from the microenvironment. In response to pathogenic challenge and host mediators, however, Mɸs undergo different programs of activation rendering them either pro-inflammatory and microbicidal (M1), or immunosuppressants and tissue repairers (M2). An excessive or prolonged polarization of either program may be detrimental to the host due to potential tissue injury or contribution to pathogenesis. Conversely, intracellular microbes that cause chronic diseases such as tuberculosis and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome exemplify strategies for survival in the host. Indeed, both Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) are successful intracellular microbes that thrive in Mɸs. Given these microbes not only co-circulate throughout the developing world but each has contributed to prevalence and mortality caused by the other, substantial insights into microbe physiology and host defenses then rest in the attempt to fully understand their influence on Mɸ polarization. This review addresses the role of Mɸ polarization in the immune response to, and pathogenesis of, Mtb and HIV.
PMCID: PMC3342390  PMID: 22566833
macrophage; Mycobacteria; tuberculosis; HIV; AIDS; polarization
14.  Activity of Drug Combinations against Dormant Mycobacterium tuberculosis▿  
Aerobic (5-day-old cultures) and nonreplicating (dormant) Mycobacterium tuberculosis (5-, 12-, and 19-day-old cultures) bacteria were treated with rifampin (R), moxifloxacin (MX), metronidazole (MZ), amikacin (AK), or capreomycin (CP) for 7, 14, and 21 days. R-MX-MZ-AK and R-MX-MZ-CP killed both aerobic and dormant bacilli in 21 days, as shown by lack of regrowth in solid and liquid media. R-MX-MZ-AK and R-MX-MZ-CP also caused a strong decrease of nonreplicating bacilli in 7 days in a cell-based dormancy model.
PMCID: PMC2876400  PMID: 20350948
15.  Innate Immune Response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis Beijing and Other Genotypes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13594.
As a species, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is more diverse than previously thought. In particular, the Beijing family of M. tuberculosis strains is spreading and evoluating throughout the world and this is giving rise to public health concerns. Genetic diversity within this family has recently been delineated further and a specific genotype, called Bmyc10, has been shown to represent over 60% of all Beijing clinical isolates in several parts of the world. How the host immune system senses and responds to various M. tuberculosis strains may profoundly influence clinical outcome and the relative epidemiological success of the different mycobacterial lineages. We hypothesised that the success of the Bmyc10 group may, at least in part, rely upon its ability to alter innate immune responses and the secretion of cytokines and chemokines by host phagocytes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We infected human macrophages and dendritic cells with a collection of genetically well-defined M. tuberculosis clinical isolates belonging to various mycobacterial families, including Beijing. We analyzed cytokine and chemokine secretion on a semi-global level using antibody arrays allowing the detection of sixty-five immunity-related soluble molecules. Our data indicate that Beijing strains induce significantly less interleukin (IL)-6, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), IL-10 and GRO-α than the H37Rv reference strain, a feature that is variously shared by other modern and ancient M. tuberculosis families and which constitutes a signature of the Beijing family as a whole. However, Beijing strains did not differ relative to each other in their ability to modulate cytokine secretion.
Our results confirm and expand upon previous reports showing that M. tuberculosis Beijing strains in general are poor in vitro cytokine inducers in human phagocytes. The results suggest that the epidemiological success of the Beijing Bmyc10 is unlikely to rely upon any specific ability of this group of strains to impair anti-mycobacterial innate immunity.
PMCID: PMC2963601  PMID: 21049036
16.  Interactions of Attenuated Mycobacterium tuberculosis phoP Mutant with Human Macrophages 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12978.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis phoP mutant SO2 derived from a clinical isolate was shown to be attenuated in mouse bone marrow-derived macrophages and in vivo mouse infection model and has demonstrated a high potential as attenuated vaccine candidate against tuberculosis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In this study, we analyze the adhesion and the intracellular growth and trafficking of SO2 in human macrophages. Our results indicate an enhanced adhesion to phagocitic cells and impaired intracellular replication of SO2 in both monocyte-derived macrophages and human cell line THP-1 in comparison with the wild type strain, consistent with murine model. Intracellular trafficking analysis in human THP-1 cells suggest that attenuation of SO2 within macrophages could be due to an impaired ability to block phagosome-lysosome fusion compared with the parental M. tuberculosis strain. No differences were found between SO2 and the wild-type strains in the release and mycobacterial susceptibility to nitric oxide (NO) produced by infected macrophages.
SO2 has enhanced ability to bind human macrophages and differs in intracellular trafficking as to wild-type M. tuberculosis. The altered lipid profile expression of the phoP mutant SO2 and its inability to secrete ESAT-6 is discussed.
PMCID: PMC2945763  PMID: 20885976
17.  High Content Phenotypic Cell-Based Visual Screen Identifies Mycobacterium tuberculosis Acyltrehalose-Containing Glycolipids Involved in Phagosome Remodeling 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(9):e1001100.
The ability of the tubercle bacillus to arrest phagosome maturation is considered one major mechanism that allows its survival within host macrophages. To identify mycobacterial genes involved in this process, we developed a high throughput phenotypic cell-based assay enabling individual sub-cellular analysis of over 11,000 Mycobacterium tuberculosis mutants. This very stringent assay makes use of fluorescent staining for intracellular acidic compartments, and automated confocal microscopy to quantitatively determine the intracellular localization of M. tuberculosis. We characterised the ten mutants that traffic most frequently into acidified compartments early after phagocytosis, suggesting that they had lost their ability to arrest phagosomal maturation. Molecular analysis of these mutants revealed mainly disruptions in genes involved in cell envelope biogenesis (fadD28), the ESX-1 secretion system (espL/Rv3880), molybdopterin biosynthesis (moaC1 and moaD1), as well as in genes from a novel locus, Rv1503c-Rv1506c. Most interestingly, the mutants in Rv1503c and Rv1506c were perturbed in the biosynthesis of acyltrehalose-containing glycolipids. Our results suggest that such glycolipids indeed play a critical role in the early intracellular fate of the tubercle bacillus. The unbiased approach developed here can be easily adapted for functional genomics study of intracellular pathogens, together with focused discovery of new anti-microbials.
Author Summary
One of the major virulence mechanisms of the tuberculosis bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is its ability to resist killing by phagocytic cells of the host immune system, namely the macrophages. Macrophages degrade invading microbes by engulfment inside a vacuole, or phagosome, that progressively acidifies and accumulates hydrolytic properties. M. tuberculosis has the unique ability to block phagosome maturation and acidification. To identify mycobacterial genes involved in phagosome maturation arrest, we developed a novel high-throughput technology based on automated confocal microscopy. We screened a library containing over 11,000 M. tuberculosis mutants, and we could identify 10 mutants that had lost their ability to resist phagosome acidification. Genetic characterization of these mutants revealed that they carried lesions in genes involved in various cell processes, including biogenesis of the cell envelope. In particular, two independent mutants in the same genetic locus showed altered production of two lipids, namely diacyltrehalose (DAT) and sulfoglycolipid (SGL). In vitro experiments showed that SGL can indeed influence phagosome maturation. Our study unravels the role of novel lipid molecules in mycobacterial intracellular parasitism; our approach may be useful to identify virulence genes in other intracellular pathogens, and to identify novel antimicrobials.
PMCID: PMC2936551  PMID: 20844580
18.  A murine DC-SIGN homologue contributes to early host defense against Mycobacterium tuberculosis 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2009;206(10):2205-2220.
The C-type lectin dendritic cell−specific intercellular adhesion molecule-3 grabbing nonintegrin (DC-SIGN) mediates the innate immune recognition of microbial carbohydrates. We investigated the function of this molecule in the host response to pathogens in vivo, by generating mouse lines lacking the DC-SIGN homologues SIGNR1, SIGNR3, and SIGNR5. Resistance to Mycobacterium tuberculosis was impaired only in SIGNR3-deficient animals. SIGNR3 was expressed in lung phagocytes during infection, and interacted with M. tuberculosis bacilli and mycobacterial surface glycoconjugates to induce secretion of critical host defense inflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF). SIGNR3 signaling was dependent on an intracellular tyrosine-based motif and the tyrosine kinase Syk. Thus, the mouse DC-SIGN homologue SIGNR3 makes a unique contribution to protection of the host against a pulmonary bacterial pathogen.
PMCID: PMC2757888  PMID: 19770268
19.  Sexual Inequality in Tuberculosis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000199.
Olivier Neyrolles and Lluis Quintana-Murci review the evidence on why tuberulosis notification is twice as high in men as in women in most countries.
PMCID: PMC2788129  PMID: 20027210
20.  Capsular glucan and intracellular glycogen of Mycobacterium tuberculosis: Biosynthesis and Impact on the Persistence in mice 
Molecular microbiology  2008;70(3):762-774.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other pathogenic mycobacterial species produce large amounts of a glycogen-like α-glucan that represents the major polysaccharide of their outermost capsular layer. To determine the role of the surface-exposed glucan in the physiology and virulence of these bacteria, orthologs of the glg genes involved in the biosynthesis of glycogen in Escherichia coli were identified in M. tuberculosis H37Rv and inactivated by allelic replacement. Biochemical analyses of the mutants and complemented strains indicated that the synthesis of glucan and glycogen involves the α-1,4-glucosyltransferases Rv3032 and GlgA (Rv1212c), the ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase GlgC (Rv1213) and the branching enzyme GlgB (Rv1326c). Disruption of glgC reduced by half the glucan and glycogen contents of M. tuberculosis, whereas the inactivation of glgA and Rv3032 affected the production of capsular glucan and glycogen, respectively. Attempts to disrupt Rv3032 in the glgA mutant were unsuccessful, suggesting that a functional copy of at least one of the two α-1,4-glucosyltransferases is required for growth. Importantly, the glgA mutant was impaired in its ability to persist in mice, suggesting a role for the capsular glucan in the persistence phase of infection. Unexpectedly, GlgB was found to be an essential enzyme.
PMCID: PMC2581643  PMID: 18808383
mycobacteria; tuberculosis; glucan; glycogen; polysaccharides; virulence
21.  Evolutionary Dynamics of Human Toll-Like Receptors and Their Different Contributions to Host Defense 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(7):e1000562.
Infectious diseases have been paramount among the threats to health and survival throughout human evolutionary history. Natural selection is therefore expected to act strongly on host defense genes, particularly on innate immunity genes whose products mediate the direct interaction between the host and the microbial environment. In insects and mammals, the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) appear to play a major role in initiating innate immune responses against microbes. In humans, however, it has been speculated that the set of TLRs could be redundant for protective immunity. We investigated how natural selection has acted upon human TLRs, as an approach to assess their level of biological redundancy. We sequenced the ten human TLRs in a panel of 158 individuals from various populations worldwide and found that the intracellular TLRs—activated by nucleic acids and particularly specialized in viral recognition—have evolved under strong purifying selection, indicating their essential non-redundant role in host survival. Conversely, the selective constraints on the TLRs expressed on the cell surface—activated by compounds other than nucleic acids—have been much more relaxed, with higher rates of damaging nonsynonymous and stop mutations tolerated, suggesting their higher redundancy. Finally, we tested whether TLRs have experienced spatially-varying selection in human populations and found that the region encompassing TLR10-TLR1-TLR6 has been the target of recent positive selection among non-Africans. Our findings indicate that the different TLRs differ in their immunological redundancy, reflecting their distinct contributions to host defense. The insights gained in this study foster new hypotheses to be tested in clinical and epidemiological genetics of infectious disease.
Author Summary
The detrimental effects of microbial infections have led to the evolution of a variety of host defense mechanisms. A vast array of host innate immunity receptors, critical sensors of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, exist to achieve permanent surveillance of intruding pathogens. The best characterized class of microbial sensors is the Toll-like receptor (TLR) family, which elicits inflammatory and antimicrobial responses after activation by microbial products. Here we investigated how microbes have exerted selective pressure on the human TLR family to gain insights on the extent to which they are functionally important in the immune system. By resequencing the ten TLRs in different worldwide populations, we show that intracellular TLRs—principally specialized in viral recognition—evolve under strong purifying selection, indicating their essential role in host survival, while the remaining TLRs display higher levels of immunological redundancy. However, for this latter group of genes, we also show that mutations altering immune responses have been in some cases beneficial for host survival, as attested by the signature of positive selection favoring a reduced TLR1-mediated response in Europeans. Our findings taken together indicate that the different human TLRs differ in their biological relevance and provide clues to be experimentally tested in clinical, immunological, and epidemiological studies.
PMCID: PMC2702086  PMID: 19609346
22.  Genetic determination of the effect of post-translational modification on the innate immune response to the 19 kDa lipoprotein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:93.
The 19 kDa lipoprotein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) is an important target of the innate immune response. To investigate the effect of post-translation modification of this protein on innate recognition in the context of the whole bacillus, we derived a recombinant M. tuberculosis H37Rv that lacked the 19 kDa gene (Δ19) and complemented this strain by reintroduction of the 19 kDa gene into the chromosome as a single copy to produce Δ19::19. We also reintroduced the 19 kDa gene in two modified forms that lacked motifs for acylation (Δ19::19NA) and O-glycosylation (Δ19::19NOG).
Both acylation and O-glycosylation were necessary for the protein to remain within the cell. IL-1 Beta secretion from human monocytes was significantly reduced by deletion of the 19 kDa gene (p < 0.02). Complementation by the wild type, but not the mutagenised gene reversed this phenotype. The effect of deletion and complementation on IL-12p40 and TNF secretion was less marked with no statistically significant differences between strains. Although deletion of the 19 kDa reduced apoptosis, an effect that could also only be reversed by complementation with the wild type gene, the results were variable between donors and did not achieve statistical significance.
These results confirm in the context of the whole bacillus an important role for post-translational modification of the 19 kDa on both the cellular location and immune response to this protein.
PMCID: PMC2689228  PMID: 19442300
23.  Probing Host Pathogen Cross-Talk by Transcriptional Profiling of Both Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Infected Human Dendritic Cells and Macrophages 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(1):e1403.
Transcriptional profiling using microarrays provides a unique opportunity to decipher host pathogen cross-talk on the global level. Here, for the first time, we have been able to investigate gene expression changes in both Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a major human pathogen, and its human host cells, macrophages and dendritic cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In addition to common responses, we could identify eukaryotic and microbial transcriptional signatures that are specific to the cell type involved in the infection process. In particular M. tuberculosis shows a marked stress response when inside dendritic cells, which is in accordance with the low permissivity of these specialized phagocytes to the tubercle bacillus and to other pathogens. In contrast, the mycobacterial transcriptome inside macrophages reflects that of replicating bacteria. On the host cell side, differential responses to infection in macrophages and dendritic cells were identified in genes involved in oxidative stress, intracellular vesicle trafficking and phagosome acidification.
This study provides the proof of principle that probing the host and the microbe transcriptomes simultaneously is a valuable means to accessing unique information on host pathogen interactions. Our results also underline the extraordinary plasticity of host cell and pathogen responses to infection, and provide a solid framework to further understand the complex mechanisms involved in immunity to M. tuberculosis and in mycobacterial adaptation to different intracellular environments.
PMCID: PMC2151136  PMID: 18167562
24.  Signature-Tagged Transposon Mutagenesis Identifies Novel Mycobacterium tuberculosis Genes Involved in the Parasitism of Human Macrophages▿  
Infection and Immunity  2006;75(1):504-507.
Using signature-tagged transposon mutagenesis, we isolated 23 Mycobacterium tuberculosis mutants, corresponding to 21 genes or genetic regions, attenuated in their ability to parasitize human macrophages. Mutants disrupted in the ABC transporter-encoding genes Rv0986 and Rv0987 were further characterized as being impaired in their ability to bind to host cells.
PMCID: PMC1828433  PMID: 17030567
25.  Is Adipose Tissue a Place for Mycobacterium tuberculosis Persistence? 
PLoS ONE  2006;1(1):e43.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiological agent of tuberculosis (TB), has the ability to persist in its human host for exceptionally long periods of time. However, little is known about the location of the bacilli in latently infected individuals. Long-term mycobacterial persistence in the lungs has been reported, but this may not sufficiently account for strictly extra-pulmonary TB, which represents 10–15% of the reactivation cases.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We applied in situ and conventional PCR to sections of adipose tissue samples of various anatomical origins from 19 individuals from Mexico and 20 from France who had died from causes other than TB. M. tuberculosis DNA could be detected by either or both techniques in fat tissue surrounding the kidneys, the stomach, the lymph nodes, the heart and the skin in 9/57 Mexican samples (6/19 individuals), and in 8/26 French samples (6/20 individuals). In addition, mycobacteria could be immuno-detected in perinodal adipose tissue of 1 out of 3 biopsy samples from individuals with active TB. In vitro, using a combination of adipose cell models, including the widely used murine adipose cell line 3T3-L1, as well as primary human adipocytes, we show that after binding to scavenger receptors, M. tuberculosis can enter within adipocytes, where it accumulates intracytoplasmic lipid inclusions and survives in a non-replicating state that is insensitive to the major anti-mycobacterial drug isoniazid.
Given the abundance and the wide distribution of the adipose tissue throughout the body, our results suggest that this tissue, among others, might constitute a vast reservoir where the tubercle bacillus could persist for long periods of time, and avoid both killing by antimicrobials and recognition by the host immune system. In addition, M. tuberculosis-infected adipocytes might provide a new model to investigate dormancy and to evaluate new drugs for the treatment of persistent infection.
PMCID: PMC1762355  PMID: 17183672

Results 1-25 (34)