Ehrlichia chaffeensis Outer Membrane Protein 1-Specific Human Antibody-Mediated Immunity Is Defined by Intracellular TRIM21-Dependent Innate Immune Activation and Extracellular Neutralization

Thangam Sudha Velayutham, Sandeep Kumar, Xiaofeng Zhang, Nurgun Kose, David H. Walker, Gary Winslow, James E. Crowe, Jere W. McBride

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Antibodies are essential for immunity against Ehrlichia chaffeensis, and protective mechanisms involve blocking of ehrlichial attachment or complement and Fcγ-receptor-dependent destruction. In this study, we determined that major outer membrane protein 1 (OMP-19) hypervariable region 1 (HVR1)-specific human monoclonal antibodies (huMAbs) are protective through conventional extracellular neutralization and, more significantly, through a novel intracellular TRIM21-mediated mechanism. Addition of OMP-1-specific huMAb EHRL-15 (IgG1) prevented infection by blocking attachment/entry, a mechanism previously reported; conversely, OMP-1-specific huMAb EHRL-4 (IgG3) engaged intracellular TRIM21 and initiated an immediate innate immune response and rapid intracellular degradation of ehrlichiae. EHRL-4-TRIM21-mediated inhibition was significantly impaired in TRIM21 knockout THP-1 cells. EHRL-4 interacted with cytosolic Fc receptor TRIM21, observed by confocal microscopy and confirmed by co-immunoprecipitation. E. chaffeensis-EHRL-4-TRIM21 complexes caused significant upregulation of proinflammatory cytokine/chemokine transcripts and resulted in rapid (<30 min) nuclear accumulation of NF-κB and TRIM21 and ehrlichial destruction. We investigated the role of TRIM21 in the autophagic clearance of ehrlichiae in the presence of EHRL-4. Colocalization between EHRL-4-opsonized ehrlichiae, polyubiquitinated TRIM21, autophagy regulators (ULK1 and beclin 1) and effectors (LC3 and p62), and lysosome-associated membrane protein 2 (LAMP2) was observed. Moreover, autophagic flux defined by conversion of LC3I to LC3II and accumulation and degradation of p62 was detected, and EHRL-4-mediated degradation of E. chaffeensis was abrogated by the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine. Our results demonstrate that huMAbs are capable of inhibiting E. chaffeensis infection by distinct effector mechanisms: extracellularly by neutralization and intracellularly by engaging TRIM21, which mediates a rapid innate immune response that mobilizes the core autophagy components, triggering localized selective autophagic degradation of ehrlichiae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019



  • antibody function
  • Ehrlichia chaffeensis
  • human monoclonal antibodies
  • neutralizing antibodies
  • selective autophagy
  • TRIM21

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases

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