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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011 Dec 9;416(1-2):153-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2011.11.015. Epub 2011 Nov 11.

Rickettsia conorii infection stimulates the expression of ISG15 and ISG15 protease UBP43 in human microvascular endothelial cells.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY, USA.


Rickettsia conorii, an obligate intracellular bacterium and the causative agent of Mediterranean spotted fever, preferentially infects microvascular endothelial cells of the mammalian hosts leading to onset of innate immune responses, characterized by the activation of intracellular signaling mechanisms, release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, and killing of intracellular rickettsiae. Our recent studies have shown that interferon (IFN)-β, a cytokine traditionally considered to be involved in antiviral immunity, plays an important role in the autocrine/paracrine regulation of host defense mechanisms and control of R. conorii growth in the host endothelial cells. Here, we show that R. conorii infection induces the expression of ISG15 (an interferon-stimulated gene coding a protein of 17kD) and UBP43 (an ISG15-specific protease) at the levels of mRNA and protein and report the evidence of ISGylation of as yet unidentified target proteins in cultured human microvascular endothelium. Infection-induced expression of ISG15 and UBP43 requires intracellular replication of rickettsiae and production of IFN-β, because treatment with tetracycline and presence of an antibody capable of neutralizing IFN-β activity resulted in near complete attenuation of both responses. Inhibition of R. conorii-induced ISG15 by RNA interference results in significant increase in the extent of rickettsial replication, whereas UBP43 knockdown yields a reciprocal inhibitory effect. In tandem, these results demonstrate the stimulation of interferon-β-mediated innate immune mechanisms capable of perturbing the growth and replication of pathogenic rickettsiae and provide first evidence for ISG15-mediated post-translational modification of host cellular proteins during infection with an intracellular bacterium.

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