The world’s smallest escape artists: manipulation of the host innate immune response by Bordatella bronchiseptica

Margaret Dedloff, a junior at Clarkson University, worked with Dr. Monical Gestal in the lab of Dr. Eric Harvill to study the role of a sigma factor by bacteria in manipulating host immune response.

Abstract:  During the course of infection, some pathogens are able to sense and respond to the host immune system. This can cause prolonged pathogenesis, high transmission rates, and vaccine failure. One group of bacteria known to manipulate the immune response in varied ways is the Bordetella spp. B. pertussis, B. bronchiseptica and B. parapertussis are able to inhibit complement and suppress B and T-cell functions [1].  The BvgAS two-component system is understood to be a regulator of many virulence factors and is known as the master virulence regulon, however this is most likely an oversimplification. We hypothesized that pathogens like bordetellae should be under strong selective pressure to sense and respond to signals in blood and serum, in order to modulate immune defenses. When studying blood and serum responsive genes, we identified a putative sigma factor up-regulated in both conditions, and we hypothesized that this might be a regulator that dictates adaptation to pressure from the immune system. Here we identified the role of this sigma factor, the Bordetella Sigma Factor, or bsr, in manipulating the immune response. Through the use of a B. bronchiseptica bsr knockout and in vitro assays, we have found that bsr interferes with the innate response. bsr inhibits survival in macrophages by changing the dynamics of phagocytosis, causing macrophage death, and causing bacterial death and replication within the macrophage by interfering with cytokine and chemokine expression as well as differentially interacting with TLR receptors. This suggests that subsequent cell recruitment will be different within the host. Our results demonstrate that the bsr gene plays a critical role in Bordetella interaction with the innate immune system. A better understanding of this gene and its function will be valuable in efforts to create successful vaccines and treatments not only for Bordetella spp. but also for other bacterial species.

[1] Gestal M.C., Whitesides L.T., and Harvill E.T. “Integrated Signaling Pathways Mediate Bordetella Immunomodulation, Persistence & Transmission”. In revision, Current Trends in Microbiology.

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