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PLoS One. 2013 May 14;8(5):e62412. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062412. Print 2013.

Francisella tularensis subsp. tularensis induces a unique pulmonary inflammatory response: role of bacterial gene expression in temporal regulation of host defense responses.

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  • 1Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Pulmonary exposure to Francisella tularensis is associated with severe lung pathology and a high mortality rate. The lack of induction of classical inflammatory mediators, including IL1-β and TNF-α, during early infection has led to the suggestion that F. tularensis evades detection by host innate immune surveillance and/or actively suppresses inflammation. To gain more insight into the host response to Francisella infection during the acute stage, transcriptomic analysis was performed on lung tissue from mice exposed to virulent (Francisella tularensis ssp tularensis SchuS4). Despite an extensive transcriptional response in the lungs of animals as early as 4 hrs post-exposure, Francisella tularensis was associated with an almost complete lack of induction of immune-related genes during the initial 24 hrs post-exposure. This broad subversion of innate immune responses was particularly evident when compared to the pulmonary inflammatory response induced by other lethal (Yersinia pestis) and non-lethal (Legionella pneumophila, Pseudomonas aeruginosa) pulmonary infections. However, the unique induction of a subset of inflammation-related genes suggests a role for dysregulation of lymphocyte function and anti-inflammatory pathways in the extreme virulence of Francisella. Subsequent activation of a classical inflammatory response 48 hrs post-exposure was associated with altered abundance of Francisella-specific transcripts, including those associated with bacterial surface components. In summary, virulent Francisella induces a unique pulmonary inflammatory response characterized by temporal regulation of innate immune pathways correlating with altered bacterial gene expression patterns. This study represents the first simultaneous measurement of both host and Francisella transcriptome changes that occur during in vivo infection and identifies potential bacterial virulence factors responsible for regulation of host inflammatory pathways.

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