Coxiella burnetii inhibits activation of host cell apoptosis through a mechanism that involves preventing cytochrome c release from mitochondria.

Research paper by Anja A Lührmann, Craig R CR Roy

Indexed on: 22 Aug '07Published on: 22 Aug '07Published in: Infection and immunity


Coxiella burnetii is an obligate intracellular pathogen and the etiological agent of the human disease Q fever. C. burnetii infects mammalian cells and then remodels the membrane-bound compartment in which it resides into a unique lysosome-derived organelle that supports bacterial multiplication. To gain insight into the mechanisms by which C. burnetii is able to multiply intracellularly, we examined the ability of host cells to respond to signals that normally induce apoptosis. Our data show that mammalian cells infected with C. burnetii are resistant to apoptosis induced by staurosporine and UV light. C. burnetii infection prevented caspase 3/7 activation and limited fragmentation of the host cell nucleus in response to agonists that induce apoptosis. Inhibition of bacterial protein synthesis reduced the antiapoptotic effect that C. burnetii exerted on infected host cells. Inhibition of apoptosis in C. burnetii-infected cells did not correlate with the degradation of proapoptotic BH3-only proteins involved in activation of the intrinsic cell death pathway; however, cytochrome c release from mitochondria was diminished in cells infected with C. burnetii upon induction of apoptosis. These data indicate that C. burnetii can interfere with the intrinsic cell death pathway during infection by producing proteins that either directly or indirectly prevent release of cytochrome c from mitochondria. It is likely that inhibition of apoptosis by C. burnetii represents an important virulence property that allows this obligate intracellular pathogen to maintain host cell viability despite inducing stress that would normally activate the intrinsic death pathway.