Differential cellular immune responses against Orientia tsutsugamushi Karp and Gilliam strains following acute infection in mice

Joseph D. Thiriot, Yuejin Liang, Casey Gonzales, Jiaren Sun, Xiaoying Yu, Lynn Soong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scrub typhus is a leading cause of febrile illness in endemic countries due to infection with Orientia tsutsugamushi (Ot), a seriously understudied intracellular bacterium. Pulmonary involvement associated with vascular parasitism in patients is common and can develop into life threatening interstitial pneumonia. The diverse antigenicity of Ot genotypes and inter-strain differences in genome content are connected to varied virulence and clinical out-comes; however, detailed studies of strain-related pulmonary immune responses in human patients or small animal models of infection are lacking. In this study, we have used two clini-cally prevalent bacterial strains (Karp and Gilliam) to reveal cellular immune responses in inflamed lungs and potential biomarkers of disease severity. The results demonstrate that outbred CD-1 mice are highly susceptible to both Karp and Gilliam strains; however, C57BL/ 6 (B6) mice were susceptible to Karp, but resistant to Gilliam (with self-limiting infection), corresponding to their tissue bacterial burdens and lung pathological changes. Multicolor flow cytometric analyses of perfused B6 mouse lungs revealed robust and sustained influx and activation of innate immune cells (macrophages, neutrophils, and NK cells), followed by CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, during Karp infection, but such responses were greatly attenuated during Gilliam infection. The robust cellular responses in Karp-infected B6 mice positively correlated with significantly early and high levels of serum cytokine/chemokine protein levels (CXCL1, CCL2/3/5, and G-CSF), as well as pulmonary gene expression (Cxcl1/2, Ccl2/3/4, and Ifng). In vitro infection of B6 mouse-derived primary macrophages also revealed bacterial strain-dependent immune gene expression profiles. This study provided the lines of evidence that highlighted differential tissue cellular responses against Karp vs. Gilliam infection, offering a framework for future investigation of Ot strain-related mechanisms of disease pathogenesis vs. infection control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0011445
JournalPLoS neglected tropical diseases
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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