Ehrlichia chaffeensis exploits canonical and noncanonical host Wnt signaling pathways to stimulate phagocytosis and promote intracellular survival

Tian Luo, Paige S. Dunphy, Taslima T. Lina, Jere W. McBride

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Ehrlichia chaffeensis invades and survives in phagocytes by modulating host cell processes and evading innate defenses, but the mechanisms are not fully defined. Recently we have determined that E. chaffeensis tandem repeat proteins (TRPs) are type 1 secreted effectors involved in functionally diverse interactions with host targets, including components of the evolutionarily conserved Wnt signaling pathways. In this study, we demonstrated that induction of host canonical and noncanonical Wnt pathways by E. chaffeensis TRP effectors stimulates phagocytosis and promotes intracellular survival. After E. chaffeensis infection, canonical and noncanonical Wnt signalings were significantly stimulated during early stages of infection (1 to 3 h) which coincided with dephosphorylation and nuclear translocation of β-catenin, a major canonical Wnt signal transducer, and NFATC1, a noncanonical Wnt transcription factor. In total, the expression ofβ44% of Wnt signaling target genes was altered during infection. Knockdown of TRP120-interacting Wnt pathway components/regulators and other critical components, such as Wnt5a ligand, Frizzled 5 receptor, β-catenin, nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT), and major signaling molecules, resulted in significant reductions in the ehrlichial load. Moreover, small-molecule inhibitors specific for components of canonical and noncanonical (Ca2+ and planar cell polarity [PCP]) Wnt pathways, including IWP-2, which blocks Wnt secretion, significantly decreased ehrlichial infection. TRPs directly activated Wnt signaling, as TRP-coated microspheres triggered phagocytosis which was blocked by Wnt pathway inhibitors, demonstrating a key role of TRP activation of Wnt pathways to induce ehrlichial phagocytosis. These novel findings reveal that E. chaffeensis exploits canonical and noncanonical Wnt pathways through TRP effectors to facilitate host cell entry and promote intracellular survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)686-700
Number of pages15
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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