Potential role of autophagy in the bactericidal activity of human PMNs forBacillus anthracis

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Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is acquired by mammalian hosts from the environment, as quiescent endospores. These endospores must germinate inside host cells, forming vegetative bacilli, before they can express the virulence factors that enable them to evade host defenses and disseminate throughout the body. While the role of macrophages and dendritic cells in this initial interaction has been established, the role of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) has not been adequately defined. We discovered that while B. anthracis 34F2 Sterne endospores germinate poorly within non-activated human PMNs, these phagocytes exhibit rapid microbicidal activity toward the outgrown vegetative bacilli, independent of superoxide and nitric oxide. These findings suggest that a non-free radical pathway kills B. anthracis bacilli. We also find in PMNs an autophagic mechanism of bacterial killing based on the rapid induction of LC-3 conversion, beclin-1 expression, sequestosome 1 (SQSTM1) degradation and inhibition of bactericidal activity by the inhibitor, 3-methyladenine. These findings extend to PMNs an autophagic bactericidal mechanism previously described for other phagocytes.

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