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Infect Immun. 2011 Dec;79(12):4947-56. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05640-11. Epub 2011 Sep 19.

Ehrlichia chaffeensis induces monocyte inflammatory responses through MyD88, ERK, and NF-κB but not through TRIF, interleukin-1 receptor 1 (IL-1R1)/IL-18R1, or toll-like receptors.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Biosciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Human monocytic ehrlichiosis, an influenza-like illness accompanied by signs of hepatitis, is caused by infection of monocytes/macrophages with a lipopolysaccharide-deficient bacterium, Ehrlichia chaffeensis. The E. chaffeensis strain Wakulla induces diffuse hepatitis with neutrophil infiltration in mice with severe combined immunodeficiency, which is accompanied by strong CXCL2 (mouse functional homolog of interleukin-8 [IL-8]) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) expression in the liver. In this study, we found that expression of IL-1β, CXCL2, and TNF-α was induced by strain Wakulla in mouse bone marrow-derived macrophages; this expression was dependent on MyD88, but not on TRIF, TLR2/4, IL-1R1/IL-18R1, or endosome acidification. When the human leukemia cell line THP-1 was exposed to E. chaffeensis, significant upregulation of IL-8, IL-1β, and TNF-α mRNA and extracellular regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) activation were detected. U0126 (inhibitor of mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase 1/2 [MEK1/2] upstream of ERK), manumycin A (Ras inhibitor), BAY43-9006 (Raf-1 inhibitor), and NS-50 (inhibitor of NF-κB nuclear translocation) inhibited the cytokine gene expression. A luciferase reporter assay using HEK293 cells, which lack Toll-like receptors (TLRs), showed activation of both the IL-8 promoter and NF-κB by E. chaffeensis. Activation of the IL-8 promoter in transfected HEK293 cells was inhibited by manumycin A, BAY43-9006, U0126, and transfection with a dominant-negative Ras mutant. These results indicate that the E. chaffeensis Wakulla strain can induce inflammatory responses through MyD88-dependent NF-κB and ERK pathways, without the involvement of TRIF and TLRs.

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