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Microbes Infect. 2009 Apr;11(4):476-83. doi: 10.1016/j.micinf.2009.01.010.

Smooth Brucella strains invade and replicate in human lung epithelial cells without inducing cell death.

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Instituto de Estudios de la Inmunidad Humoral, Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Junín 956, 4to. piso, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Inhalation is a common route for Brucella infection. We investigated whether Brucella species can invade and replicate within alveolar(A549) and bronchial (Calu-6 and 16HBE14o-) human epithelial cells. The number of adherent and intracellular bacteria was higher for rough strains (Brucella canis and Brucella abortus RB51) than for smooth strains (B. abortus 2308 and Brucella suis 1330). Only smooth strains exhibited efficient intracellular replication (1.5-3.5 log increase at 24 h p.i.). A B. abortus mutant with defective expression of the type IV secretion system did not replicate. B. abortus internalization was inhibited by specific inhibitors of microfilaments, microtubules and PI3-kinase activity. As assessed with fluorescent probes, B. abortus infection did not affect the viability of A549 and 16HBE14o- cells, but increased the percentage of injured cells (both strains) and dead cells (RB51) in Calu-6 cultures. LDH levels were increased in supernatants of Calu-6 and 16HBE14o- cells infected with B. abortus RB51, and to a lower extent in Calu-6 infected with B. abortus 2308. No apoptosis was detected by TUNEL upon infection with smooth or rough B. abortus. This study shows that smooth brucellae can infect and replicate in human respiratory epithelial cells inducing minimal or null cytotoxicity.

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