Development of an Ex Vivo Tissue Platform To Study the Human Lung Response to Coxiella burnetii.

Research paper by Joseph G JG Graham, Caylin G CG Winchell, Richard C RC Kurten, Daniel E DE Voth

Indexed on: 24 Feb '16Published on: 24 Feb '16Published in: Infection and immunity


Coxiella burnetii is an intracellular bacterial pathogen that causes human Q fever, an acute debilitating flu-like illness that can also present as chronic endocarditis. Disease typically occurs following inhalation of contaminated aerosols, resulting in an initial pulmonary infection. In human cells, C. burnetii generates a replication niche termed the parasitophorous vacuole (PV) by directing fusion with autophagosomes and lysosomes. C. burnetii requires this lysosomal environment for replication and uses a Dot/Icm type IV secretion system to generate the large PV. However, we do not understand how C. burnetii evades the intracellular immune surveillance that triggers an inflammatory response. We recently characterized human alveolar macrophage (hAM) infection in vitro and found that avirulent C. burnetii triggers sustained interleukin-1β (IL-1β) production. Here, we evaluated infection of ex vivo human lung tissue, defining a valuable approach for characterizing C. burnetii interactions with a human host. Within whole lung tissue, C. burnetii preferentially replicated in hAMs. Additionally, IL-1β production correlated with formation of an apoptosis-associated speck-like protein containing a caspase activation and recruitment domain (ASC)-dependent inflammasome in response to infection. We also assessed potential activation of a human-specific noncanonical inflammasome and found that caspase-4 and caspase-5 are processed during infection. Interestingly, although inflammasome activation is closely linked to pyroptosis, lytic cell death did not occur following C. burnetii-triggered inflammasome activation, indicating an atypical response after intracellular detection. Together, these studies provide a novel platform for studying the human innate immune response to C. burnetii.