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Cell Death Dis. 2010 Apr 8;1:e34. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2010.11.

Tropheryma whipplei, the Whipple's disease bacillus, induces macrophage apoptosis through the extrinsic pathway.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, URMITE, Université de la Méditerranée, Unité Mixte de Recherche 6236, Marseille, France.


Tropheryma whipplei, the etiological agent of Whipple's disease, is an intracellular bacterium that infects macrophages. We previously showed that infection of macrophages results in M2 polarization associated with induction of apoptosis and interleukin (IL)-16 secretion. In patients with Whipple's disease, circulating levels of apoptotic markers and IL-16 are increased and correlate with the activity of the disease. To gain insight into the understanding of the pathophysiology of this rare disease, we examined the molecular pathways involved in T. whipplei-induced apoptosis of human macrophages. Our data showed that apoptosis induction depended on bacterial viability and inhibition of bacterial protein synthesis reduced the apoptotic program elicited by T. whipplei. Induction of apoptosis was also associated with a massive degradation of both pro- and anti-apoptotic mediators. Caspase-specific inhibition experiments revealed that initiator caspases 8 and 10 were required for apoptosis, in contrast to caspases 2 and 9, in spite of cytochrome-c release from mitochondria. Finally, the effector caspases 3 and 6 were mandatory for apoptosis induction. Collectively, these data suggest that T. whipplei induces apoptosis through the extrinsic pathway and that, beside M2 polarization of macrophages, apoptosis induction contributes to bacterial replication and represents a virulence trait of this intracellular pathogen.

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