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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Oct 18;108(42):17408-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112660108. Epub 2011 Oct 3.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis lipomannan blocks TNF biosynthesis by regulating macrophage MAPK-activated protein kinase 2 (MK2) and microRNA miR-125b.

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  • 1Center for Microbial Interface Biology, Integrated Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Contact of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) with the immune system requires interactions between microbial surface molecules and host pattern recognition receptors. Major M.tb-exposed cell envelope molecules, such as lipomannan (LM), contain subtle structural variations that affect the nature of the immune response. Here we show that LM from virulent M.tb (TB-LM), but not from avirulent Myocobacterium smegmatis (SmegLM), is a potent inhibitor of TNF biosynthesis in human macrophages. This difference in response is not because of variation in Toll-like receptor 2-dependent activation of the signaling kinase MAPK p38. Rather, TB-LM stimulation leads to destabilization of TNF mRNA transcripts and subsequent failure to produce TNF protein. In contrast, SmegLM enhances MAPK-activated protein kinase 2 phosphorylation, which is critical for maintaining TNF mRNA stability in part by contributing microRNAs (miRNAs). In this context, human miRNA miR-125b binds to the 3' UTR region of TNF mRNA and destabilizes the transcript, whereas miR-155 enhances TNF production by increasing TNF mRNA half-life and limiting expression of SHIP1, a negative regulator of the PI3K/Akt pathway. We show that macrophages incubated with TB-LM and live M.tb induce high miR-125b expression and low miR-155 expression with correspondingly low TNF production. In contrast, SmegLM and live M. smegmatis induce high miR-155 expression and low miR-125b expression with high TNF production. Thus, we identify a unique cellular mechanism underlying the ability of a major M.tb cell wall component, TB-LM, to block TNF biosynthesis in human macrophages, thereby allowing M.tb to subvert host immunity and potentially increase its virulence.

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