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Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 1999 May;68(2-4):159-68.

Early cytokine induction in mouse P388D1 macrophages infected by Coxiella burnetii.

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Defence Research Establishment, Department of NBC Defence, Division of Microbiology, Umeå, Sweden.


Q-fever is caused by Coxiella burnetii, which is an obligate intracellular bacterium with a broad spectrum of host cells, including macrophages. Cytokines produced from macrophages infected by intracellular bacteria play a critical role in the expression of innate immune responses as well as in the subsequent triggering of protective acquired cell-mediated immunity. We followed the induction and secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin 1 alpha (IL-1alpha), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin 12 (IL-12) in the macrophage-like mouse cell line P388D1 during the initial phase of an in vitro infection by virulent C. burnetii Nine Mile. Secretion of IL-1alpha and TNF-alpha were observed within 3 h post-inoculation. IL-12, however, was not detected in cell supernatants. Two forms of C. burnetii exist, virulent phase I and avirulent phase II organisms. To determine whether the cytokine response was dependent on the form of C. burnetii, the induction of IL-1alpha and TNF-alpha in infected P388D1 cells was compared. Both cytokines were produced by macrophages early after infection with Phase I bacteria. A similar induction of TNF-alpha was observed after infection with the avirulent Phase II bacteria, but no IL-1alpha induction could be detected. As the only difference identified between the two forms of C. burnetii is the composition of their lipopolysaccharides (LPS), the ability of each of the purified LPS from the two variants to induce IL-1alpha was investigated. Purified C. burnetii LPS induced a moderate IL-1alpha response in comparison to that induced by the efficient stimulator E. coli LPS. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in action between Phase I and Phase II LPS preparations. We thus postulate that factors other than LPS differ between the two variants of C. burnetii, and these differences may account for differences in IL-1alpha induction.

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