The interaction between IL-18 and IL-18 receptor limits the magnitude of protective immunity and enhances pathogenic responses following infection with intracellular bacteria

Purnima Ghose, Asim Q. Ali, Rong Fang, Digna Forbes, Billy Ballard, Nahed Ismail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations


The binding of IL-18 to IL-18Rα induces both proinflammatory and protective functions during infection, depending on the context in which it occurs. IL-18 is highly expressed in the liver of wild-type (WT) C57BL/6 mice following lethal infection with highly virulent Ixodes ovatus ehrlichia (IOE), an obligate intracellular bacterium that causes acute fatal toxic shock-like syndrome. In this study, we found that IOE infection of IL-18Rα-/- mice resulted in significantly less host cell apoptosis, decreased hepatic leukocyte recruitment, enhanced bacterial clearance, and prolonged survival compared with infected WT mice, suggesting a pathogenic role for IL-18/IL-18Rα in Ehrlichia-induced toxic shock. Although lack of IL-18R decreased the magnitude of IFN-γ producing type-1 immune response, enhanced resistance of IL-18Rα-/- mice against Ehrlichia correlated with increased proinflammatory cytokines at sites of infection, decreased systemic IL-10 production, increased frequency of protective NKT cells producing TNF-α and IFN-γ, and decreased frequency of pathogenic TNF-α-producing CD8+ T cells. Adoptive transfer of immune WT CD8+ T cells increased bacterial burden in IL-18Rα-/- mice following IOE infection. Furthermore, rIL-18 treatment of WT mice infected with mildly virulent Ehrlichia muris impaired bacterial clearance and enhanced liver injury. Finally, lack of IL-18R signal reduced dendritic cell maturation and their TNF-α production, suggesting that IL-18 might promote the adaptive pathogenic immune responses against Ehrlichia by influencing T cell priming functions of dendritic cells. Together, these results suggested that the presence or absence of IL-18R signals governs the pathogenic versus protective immunity in a model of Ehrlichia-induced immunopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1333-1346
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2011


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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