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Clin Exp Immunol. 1998 May;112(2):308-16.

Down-regulation of MHC class II molecules and inability to up-regulate class I molecules in murine macrophages after infection with Toxoplasma gondii.

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Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology, University of Würzburg, Germany.


Toxoplasma gondii is able to invade phagocytic cells of the monocyte-macrophage lineage and replicates within a parasitophorous vacuole. Since macrophages may activate specific T lymphocytes by presenting pathogen-derived antigens in association with molecules of the MHC, we investigated the in vitro expression of host cell molecules involved in antigen processing and presentation before and during infection of murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMM) with T. gondii. Fifty-one hours after addition of T. gondii tachyzoites at different parasite-to-host ratios, up-regulation of total MHC class II molecules by interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) was dose-dependently abrogated in up to 50% of macrophages compared with uninfected control cultures. Quantitative analyses by flow cytometry revealed that the IFN-gamma-induced surface expression of class II antigens as well as the IFN-gamma-induced upregulation of class I molecules was significantly decreased in T. gondii-infected macrophage cultures compared with uninfected controls. However, the constitutive expression of MHC class I antigens was not altered after parasitic infection, and infected BMM remained clearly positive for these molecules. After infection of macrophages preactivated with IFN-gamma for 48 h, T. gondii also actively down-regulated an already established expression of MHC class II molecules. Furthermore, kinetic analysis revealed that the reduction in intracellular and plasma membrane-bound class II molecules started approximately 20 h after infection. While MHC class II antigens were most prominently reduced in parasite-positive host cells, culture supernatant from T. gondii-infected BMM cultures also significantly inhibited expression of these molecules in uninfected macrophages. However, down-regulation of MHC class II molecules was not mediated by an increased production of prostaglandin E2, IL-10, transforming growth factor-beta or nitric oxide by infected BMM compared with uninfected controls. Our data indicate that intracellular T. gondii interferes with the MHC class I and class II antigen presentation pathway of murine macrophages and this may be an important strategy for evasion from the host's immune response and for intracellular survival of the parasite.

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