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Microbes Infect. 2005 Apr;7(4):619-25. Epub 2005 Mar 16.

The role of MAPK signal pathways during Francisella tularensis LVS infection-induced apoptosis in murine macrophages.

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Department of Experimental Oncology, Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute, Zluty kopec 7, 656 53 Brno, Czech Republic.


Francisella tularensis is a highly virulent intracellular pathogen responsible for tularemia. This bacterium is capable of infecting many mammalian species and various cell types, but little is known about the mechanisms of survival and interactions with host cells. We examined the number of infected host cells, cytotoxicity and the role of apoptosis or necrosis in infection-induced cell death. Our results demonstrate that F. tularensis LVS induces apoptosis of infected macrophages within 10 h. At later time points we were also able to detect a dramatic increase in the proportion of necrotic macrophages. We investigated the signalling pathways involved in infection-induced cell death by analysing three mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways that are known to be activated by LPS stimulation; p42/p44 MAPK (Erk1/2), transcription factor c-Jun and p38 MAPK. We identified post-translational activation of both p42 MAPK and p44 MAPK by phosphorylation at threonine and tyrosine residues after infection. Furthermore, treatment of infected cells with MEK1/2 inhibitors abrogated phosphorylation of p42/p44 MAPK and inhibited macrophage apoptosis and necrosis after infection. In contrast, phosphorylation and kinase activity of p38 MAPK was significantly lower in F. tularensis-infected cells, and inhibition of p38 MAPK activity induced apoptosis in uninfected cells. When we monitored JNK-dependent phosphorylation of the transcription factor c-Jun, we did not observe any reactivity with either SAPK/JNK or phospho-SAPK/JNK antibodies at any time point. In conclusion, we demonstrate that F. tularensis LVS infection induces macrophage apoptosis. This process requires activation of the p42/p44 MAPK pathway and is associated with reduced p38 MAPK activity, indicating that infection-induced cell death can be caused by perturbation of these two signalling pathways.

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