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J Immunol. 2002 Oct 15;169(8):4488-95.

Coxiella burnetii survival in THP-1 monocytes involves the impairment of phagosome maturation: IFN-gamma mediates its restoration and bacterial killing.

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Unité des Rickettsies, Faculté de Médecine, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Unité Mixte de Recherche 6020, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 48, Faculté de Médecine, 27 Boulevard Jean Moulin, 13385 Marseille Cedex 5, France.


The subversion of microbicidal functions of macrophages by intracellular pathogens is critical for their survival and pathogenicity. The replication of Coxiella burnetii, the agent of Q fever, in acidic phagolysosomes of nonphagocytic cells has been considered as a paradigm of intracellular life of bacteria. We show in this study that C. burnetii survival in THP-1 monocytes was not related to phagosomal pH because bacterial vacuoles were acidic independently of C. burnetii virulence. In contrast, virulent C. burnetii escapes killing in resting THP-1 cells by preventing phagosome maturation. Indeed, C. burnetii vacuoles did not fuse with lysosomes because they were devoid of cathepsin D, and did not accumulate lysosomal trackers; the acquisition of markers of late endosomes and late endosomes-early lysosomes was conserved. In contrast, avirulent variants of C. burnetii were eliminated by monocytes and their vacuoles accumulated late endosomal and lysosomal markers. The fate of virulent C. burnetii in THP-1 monocytes depends on cell activation. Monocyte activation by IFN-gamma restored C. burnetii killing and phagosome maturation as assessed by colocalization of C. burnetii with active cathepsin D. In addition, when IFN-gamma was added before cell infection, it was able to stimulate C. burnetii killing but it also induced vacuolar alkalinization. These findings suggest that IFN-gamma mediates C. burnetii killing via two distinct mechanisms, phagosome maturation, and phagosome alkalinization. Thus, the tuning of vacuole biogenesis is likely a key part of C. burnetii survival and the pathophysiology of Q fever.

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