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Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Jul-Sep;22(3):659-68.

Chlamydia pneumoniae induces T cell apoptosis through glutathione redox imbalance and secretion of TNF-alpha.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.


Chlamydia pneumoniae persistent infection has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several chronic inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis, and we hypothesized that modulation of the apoptosis of macrophages and/or T cells by C. pneumoniae infection may contribute to the development of such diseases. We therefore evaluated apoptosis, cytokine response, and redox status in human primary T cells and macrophages infected with C. pneumoniae. In addition, co-cultures of T cells and macrophages infected with C. pneumoniae were also carried out. Apoptosis, and levels of glutathione (GSH), glutathione disulfide (GSSG), and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha were measured by flow cytometry, high performance liquid chromatography and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. C. pneumoniae induced apoptosis in T cells as well as in co-cultures of T cells and infected macrophages by marked decrease in GSH/GSSG ratio and increased production of TNF-alpha, respectively. The results demonstrate that interaction of C. pneumoniae with T cells and/or macrophages characterized by interference with redox status, and secretion of tumour necrosis factor-alpha culminates in the induction of T cell apoptosis and survival of infected macrophages. In conclusion, the inappropriate T cell response against C. pneumoniae and survival of infected macrophages could explain the persistence of this intracellular obligate pathogen in the host-organism; it may contribute to the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, although further studies are needed to clarify such a complex mechanism.

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