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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Jun;1105:160-86. Epub 2007 Apr 13.

Uptake and intracellular fate of Francisella tularensis in human macrophages.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of California, 37-121 CHS, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Francisella tularensis is an intracellular pathogen that survives and multiplies within host mononuclear phagocytes. We have shown that uptake of the bacterium by human macrophages occurs by a novel process, "looping phagocytosis," in which the bacterium is engulfed in a spacious, asymmetric, pseudopod loop. Whereas looping phagocytosis is resistant to treatment of the F. tularensis with formalin, proteases, or heat, the process is abolished by oxidation of the bacterial carbohydrates with periodate, suggesting a role for preformed surface carbohydrate molecules in triggering looping phagocytosis. Following uptake, F. tularensis initially resides in a spacious vacuole at the periphery of the cell, but this vacuole rapidly shrinks in size. The nascent F. tularensis vacuole transiently acquires early endosomal markers, but subsequently exhibits an arrested maturation, manifest by only limited amounts of lysosome-associated membrane glycoproteins (consistent with limited interaction with late endosomes), nonfusion with lysosomes, and minimal acidification. In ultrastructural studies, we have observed that the F. tularensis phagosome displays a novel feature in that many of the phagosomes acquire an electron dense fibrillar coat. This fibrillar coat forms blebs and vesicles, and with time, is seen to be fragmented and disrupted. With increasing time after infection, increasing numbers of the F. tularensis are found free in the macrophage cytoplasm, such that by 14 h after infection, less than 15% of the bacteria are surrounded by any discernible phagosomal membrane. Further research is needed to determine the mechanisms underlying looping phagocytosis, and the maturational arrest, fibrillar coat formation, and disruption of the phagosome.

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