Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is an opportunistic pathogen that causes the relapse of illness in immunocompromised patients, leading to prolonged hospitalization, increased medical expense, and death. In this report, we show that PA invades natural killer (NK) cells and induces phagocytosis-induced cell death (PICD) of lymphocytes. In vivo tumor metastasis was augmented by PA infection, with a significant reduction in NK cell number. Adoptive transfer of NK cells mitigated PA-induced metastasis. Internalization of PA into NK cells was observed by transmission electron microscopy. In addition, PA invaded NK cells via phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) activation, and the phagocytic event led to caspase 9-dependent apoptosis of NK cells. PA-mediated NK cell apoptosis was dependent on activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These data suggest that the phagocytosis of PA by NK cells is a critical event that affects the relapse of diseases in immunocompromised patients, such as those with cancer, and provides important insights into the interactions between PA and NK cells.
Phagocytic leukocytes, including neutrophils and macrophages, are critical for innate immunity against invading bacteria. Binding and internalization of bacteria by these immune cells stimulates a variety of anti-microbial activities. Although the immune cells are specialized for elimination of bacteria, cellular apoptosis by bacterial phagocytosis has emerged as an important mechanism of pathogenesis. NK cells are non-phagocytic lymphocytes that are responsible for innate immunity via elimination of virus or bacteria-infected cells, as well as transformed cells. We found that PA invades NK cells and that this phagocytic event results in the generation of ROS within the NK cells, leading to apoptosis. The elimination of NK cells, at least in part, may be responsible for the relapse in PA-infected cancer patients. Based on these findings, studies on the interactions between bacterial determinants and host receptors should provide further insight into the mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis.