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PLoS Pathog. 2009 Apr;5(4):e1000361. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000361. Epub 2009 Apr 3.

Caspase-7 activation by the Nlrc4/Ipaf inflammasome restricts Legionella pneumophila infection.

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  • 1Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Center for Microbial Interface Biology and the Department of Internal Medicine, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.


Legionella pneumophila (L. pneumophila), the causative agent of a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease, replicates in human monocytes and macrophages. Most inbred mouse strains are restrictive to L. pneumophila infection except for the A/J, Nlrc4(-/-) (Ipaf(-/-)), and caspase-1(-/-) derived macrophages. Particularly, caspase-1 activation is detected during L. pneumophila infection of murine macrophages while absent in human cells. Recent in vitro experiments demonstrate that caspase-7 is cleaved by caspase-1. However, the biological role for caspase-7 activation downstream of caspase-1 is not known. Furthermore, whether this reaction is pertinent to the apoptosis or to the inflammation pathway or whether it mediates a yet unidentified effect is unclear. Using the intracellular pathogen L. pneumophila, we show that, upon infection of murine macrophages, caspase-7 was activated downstream of the Nlrc4 inflammasome and required caspase-1 activation. Such activation of caspase-7 was mediated by flagellin and required a functional Naip5. Remarkably, mice lacking caspase-7 and its macrophages allowed substantial L. pneumophila replication. Permissiveness of caspase-7(-/-) macrophages to the intracellular pathogen was due to defective delivery of the organism to the lysosome and to delayed cell death during early stages of infection. These results reveal a new mechanism for caspase-7 activation downstream of the Nlrc4 inflammasome and present a novel biological role for caspase-7 in host defense against an intracellular bacterium.

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