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Infect Immun. 2007 Jul;75(7):3245-55. Epub 2007 Apr 16.

T cells are essential for bacterial clearance, and gamma interferon, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and B cells are crucial for disease development in Coxiella burnetii infection in mice.

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Department of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX 77843-1114, USA.


Coxiella burnetii, the etiological agent of Q fever, has two phase variants. Phase I has a complete lipopolysaccharide (LPS), is highly virulent, and causes Q fever in humans and pathology in experimental animals. Phase II lacks an LPS O side chain, is avirulent, and does not grow well in immunocompetent animals. To understand the pathogenicity of Q fever, we investigated the roles of immune components in animals infected with Nine Mile phase I (NM I) or Nine Mile phase II (NM II) bacteria. Immunodeficient mice, including SCID mice (deficient in T and B cells), SCIDbg mice (deficient in T, B, and NK cells), nude mice (deficient in T cells), muMT mice (deficient in B cells), bg mice (deficient in NK cells), mice deficient in tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha(-/-) mice), and mice deficient in gamma interferon (IFN-gamma(-/-) mice), were compared for their responses to infection. SCID, SCIDbg, nude, and IFN-gamma(-/-) mice showed high susceptibility to NM I, and TNF-alpha(-/-) mice showed modest susceptibility. Disease caused by NM I in SCID, SCIDbg, and nude mice progressed slowly, while disease in IFN-gamma(-/-) and TNF-alpha(-/-) mice advanced rapidly. B- and NK-cell deficiencies did not enhance clinical disease development or alter bacterial clearance but did increase the severity of histopathological changes, particularly in the absence of B cells. Mice infected with NM II showed no apparent clinical disease, but T-cell-deficient mice had histopathological changes. These results suggest that T cells are critical for clearance of C. burnetii, either NM I or NM II, that IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha are essential for the early control of infection, and that B cells are important for the prevention of tissue damage.

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