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PLoS Pathog. 2008 May 16;4(5):e1000066. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000066.

The uptake of apoptotic cells drives Coxiella burnetii replication and macrophage polarization: a model for Q fever endocarditis.

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Unité de Recherche sur les Maladies Infectieuses Transmissibles et Emergentes, CNRS UMR 6236, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 48, Université de la Méditerranée, Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France.


Patients with valvulopathy have the highest risk to develop infective endocarditis (IE), although the relationship between valvulopathy and IE is not clearly understood. Q fever endocarditis, an IE due to Coxiella burnetii, is accompanied by immune impairment. Patients with valvulopathy exhibited increased levels of circulating apoptotic leukocytes, as determined by the measurement of active caspases and nucleosome determination. The binding of apoptotic cells to monocytes and macrophages, the hosts of C. burnetii, may be responsible for the immune impairment observed in Q fever endocarditis. Apoptotic lymphocytes (AL) increased C. burnetii replication in monocytes and monocyte-derived macrophages in a cell-contact dependent manner, as determined by quantitative PCR and immunofluorescence. AL binding induced a M2 program in monocytes and macrophages stimulated with C. burnetii as determined by a cDNA chip containing 440 arrayed sequences and functional tests, but this program was in part different in monocytes and macrophages. While monocytes that had bound AL released high levels of IL-10 and IL-6, low levels of TNF and increased CD14 expression, macrophages that had bound AL released high levels of TGF-beta1 and expressed mannose receptor. The neutralization of IL-10 and TGF-beta1 prevented the replication of C. burnetii due to the binding of AL, suggesting that they were critically involved in bacterial replication. In contrast, the binding of necrotic cells to monocytes and macrophages led to C. burnetii killing and typical M1 polarization. Finally, interferon-gamma corrected the immune deactivation induced by apoptotic cells: it prevented the replication of C. burnetii and re-directed monocytes and macrophages toward a M1 program, which was deleterious for C. burnetii. We suggest that leukocyte apoptosis associated with valvulopathy may be critical for the pathogenesis of Q fever endocarditis by deactivating immune cells and creating a favorable environment for bacterial persistence.

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