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Microbiology. 2010 Jun;156(Pt 6):1836-47. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.035915-0. Epub 2010 Mar 18.

Identification of Rhodococcus equi lipids recognized by host cytotoxic T lymphocytes.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, PO Box 647040, Pullman, WA 99164-7040, USA.


Immune adult horses have CD8(+) cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) that recognize and lyse Rhodococcus equi-infected cells in an equine lymphocyte alloantigen (ELA)-A [classical major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I]-unrestricted fashion. As protein antigens are MHC class I-restricted, the lack of restriction suggests that the bacterial antigens being recognized by the host are not proteins. The goals of this study were to test the hypothesis that these CTLs recognize unique R. equi cell-wall lipids related to mycobacterial lipids. Initial experiments showed that treatment of soluble R. equi antigen with broadly reactive proteases did not significantly diminish the ability of the antigen to stimulate R. equi-specific CTLs. R. equi-specific CTLs were also shown to lyse target cells (equine macrophages) pulsed with an R. equi lipid extract. Analysis of the R. equi lipid by TLC and MS (MALDI-TOF and ES) indicated that the extracted antigen consisted of three primary fractions: trehalose monomycolate (TMM), trehalose dimycolate (TDM) and cardiolipin (CL). ELA-A-mismatched cells pulsed with purified TMM and CL, but not the TDM fraction, were recognized and lysed by R. equi-specific CTLs. Because of their role in immune clearance and pathogenesis, transcription of the cytokines gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) and interleukin-4 (IL-4) was also measured in response to R. equi lipids by using real-time PCR; elevated IFN-gamma, but not IL-4, was associated with host clearance of the bacteria. The whole-cell R. equi lipid and all three R. equi lipid fractions resulted in marked increases in IFN-gamma transcription, but no increase in IL-4 transcription. Together, these data support the hypothesis that immune recognition of unique lipids in the bacterial cell wall is an important component of the protective immune response to R. equi. The results also identify potential lipid antigens not previously shown to be recognized by CTLs in an important, naturally occurring actinomycete bacterial pathogen.

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