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Cell Microbiol. 2010 Dec;12(12):1703-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2010.01502.x.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae effectively blocks HIV-1 replication by eliciting a potent TLR9-dependent interferon-α response from plasmacytoid dendritic cells.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Clinical and epidemiological research provides evidence for a positive correlation between Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection and HIV transmission; however, mechanistic studies examining this relationship have yielded conflicting results. To explore this interaction, we exposed ex vivo cultured peripheral blood cells from acute HIV(+) individuals to N. gonorrhoeae. Unexpectedly, we observed a profound inhibition in HIV-1 replication in the ex vivo cultures, and this was recapitulated when peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy donors were co-infected with HIV-1 and N. gonorrhoeae. Next, we established that gonococcal-infected PBMCs liberated a soluble factor that effectively blocked HIV-1 replication. Cytokine analyses and antibody blocking experiments revealed that the type I interferon, interferon-α (IFNα), was expressed upon exposure to N. gonorrhoeae and was responsible for the inhibition of HIV-1. Intracellular staining, TLR9-blocking and cell depletion-based studies demonstrated that the IFNα was elicited by plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in a TLR9-dependent manner. The pDC response to N. gonorrhoeae was unexpected given pDCs more established role in innate defence against intracellular pathogens, suggesting this may be a bacterial immune evasion strategy. In the context of HIV, this overcomes the virus's otherwise effective avoidance of the interferon response and represents a previously unrecognized intersection between these two sexually transmitted pathogens.

© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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