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Infect Immun. 2012 Mar;80(3):952-67. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05221-11. Epub 2011 Dec 27.

O-antigen-deficient Francisella tularensis Live Vaccine Strain mutants are ingested via an aberrant form of looping phagocytosis and show altered kinetics of intracellular trafficking in human macrophages.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, University of California—Los Angeles School of Medicine, Center for Health Sciences, Los Angeles, California, USA.


We examined the uptake and intracellular trafficking of F. tularensis Live Vaccine Strain (LVS) and LVS with disruptions of wbtDEF and wbtI genes essential for synthesis of the O antigen of lipopolysaccharide. Unlike parental bacteria, O-antigen-deficient LVS is efficiently killed by serum with intact complement but not by serum lacking terminal complement components. Opsonization of O-antigen-deficient LVS in serum lacking terminal complement components allows efficient uptake of these live bacteria by macrophages. In the presence of complement, whereas parental F. tularensis LVS is internalized within spacious pseudopod loops, mutant LVS is internalized within tightly juxtaposed multiple onion-like layers of pseudopodia. Without complement, both parental and mutant LVSs are internalized within spacious pseudopod loops. Thus, molecules other than O antigen are important in triggering dramatic pseudopod extensions and uptake by spacious pseudopod loops. Following uptake, both parental and mutant LVSs enter compartments that show limited staining for the lysosomal membrane glycoprotein CD63 and little fusion with secondary lysosomes. Subsequently, both parental and mutant LVSs lose their CD63 staining. Whereas the majority of parental LVS escapes into the cytosol by 6 h after uptake, mutant LVS shows a marked lag but does escape by 1 day after uptake. Despite the altered kinetics of phagosome escape, both mutant and parental strains grow to high levels within human macrophages. Thus, the O antigen plays a role in the morphology of uptake in the presence of complement and the kinetics of intracellular growth but is not essential for escape, survival, altered membrane trafficking, or intramacrophage growth.

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