Interrelationship between dendritic cell trafficking and Francisella tularensis dissemination following airway infection

Erez Bar-Haim*, Orit Gat, Gal Markel, Hila Cohen, Avigdor Shafferman, Baruch Velan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Francisella tularensis, the etiological agent of the inhalation tularemia, multiplies in a variety of cultured mammalian cells. Nevertheless, evidence for its in vivo intracellular residence is less conclusive. Dendritic cells (DC) that are adapted for engulfing bacteria and migration towards lymphatic organs could serve as potential targets for bacterial residence and trafficking. Here, we focus on the in vivo interactions of F. tularensis with DC following airway infection of mice. Lethal airway infection of mice with the live vaccine strain (LVS) results in trafficking of a CD11bhigh/CD11cmed/ autofluorescencelow DC subset from the respiratory tract to the draining mediastinal lymph node (MdLN). Simultaneously, a rapid, massive bacterial colonization of the MdLN occurs, characterized by large bacterial foci formation. Analysis of bacteria in the MdLN revealed a major population of extracellular bacteria, which co-exists with a substantial fraction of intracellular bacteria. The intracellular bacteria are viable and reside in cells sorted for DC marker expression. Moreover, in vivo vital staining experiments indicate that most of these intracellular bacteria (∼75%) reside in cells that have migrated from the airways to the MdLN after infection. The correlation between DC and bacteria accumulation in the MdLN was further demonstrated by manipulating DC migration to the MdLN through two independent pathways. Impairment of DC migration to the MdLN, either by a sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor agonist (FTY720) or by the D prostanoid receptor 1 agonist (BW245C), resulted in reduced bacterial colonization of MdLN. Moreover, BW245C treatment delayed the onset of morbidity and the time to death of the infected mice. Taken together, these results suggest that DC can serve as an inhabitation niche for F. tularensis in the early stages of infection, and that DC trafficking plays a role in pathogen dissemination. This underscores the therapeutic potential of DC migration impairing drugs in tularemia treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000211
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


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