Cell death, BAX activation, and HMGB1 release during infection with Chlamydia


David M. Ojcius: 0000-0003-1461-4495


Biomedical Sciences

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Microbes and Infection









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Infection by a number of Chlamydia species leads to resistance of the host cell to apoptosis, followed by induction of host-cell death. In a population of infected cells that displays protection against staurosporine-induced apoptosis among the adherent cells, we find that cells that had been recovered from the supernatant share characteristics of both apoptosis and necrosis, as assayed by the propidium iodide (PI)–annexin V double-labeling technique. Cell death was observed in both an epithelial cell line and primary fibroblasts, although the primary cells had a higher propensity to die through apoptosis than the immortalized cell line. Staurosporine-mediated activation of the pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family member, BAX, was inhibited in the epithelial cell line infected for 32 h with the lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV/L2) but not the murine pneumonitis (MoPn) strain of C. trachomatis, but inhibition of staurosporine-mediated BAX activation disappeared after 48 h of infection with the LGV/L2 strain. Conversely, infection with MoPn (C. muridarum) but not LGV/L2 led to BAX activation after 72 h, as previously reported for shorter (48 h) infection with the guinea pig inclusion conjunctivitis (GPIC) serovar of C. psittaci (C. caviae). These results suggest that the ability to inhibit staurosporine-mediated BAX activation or to activate BAX due to the infection itself may vary as a function of the chlamydial strain. Interestingly, both the epithelial cells and the fibroblasts also released high mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1) during infection, although much less HMGB1 was released from fibroblasts, consistent with the higher level of apoptosis observed in the primary cells. HMGB1 is released preferentially by necrotic or permeabilized viable cells, but not apoptotic cells. In the extracellular space, HMGB1 promotes inflammation through interaction with specific cell-surface receptors. Higher levels of HMGB1 were also measured in the genital-tract secretions of mice infected vaginally with C. trachomatis, compared to uninfected controls. These results suggest that cells infected with Chlamydia release intracellular factors that may contribute to the inflammatory response observed in vivo.