Ehrlichia species are intracellular bacteria that cause fatal ehrlichiosis, mimicking toxic shock syndrome in humans and mice. Virulent ehrlichiae induce inflammasome activation leading to caspase-1 cleavage and IL-18 secretion, which contribute to development of fatal ehrlichiosis. We show that fatal infection triggers expression of inflammasome components, activates caspase-1 and caspase-11, and induces host-cell death and secretion of IL-1β, IL-1α, and type I interferon (IFN-I). Wild-type and Casp1-/- mice were highly susceptible to fatal ehrlichiosis, had overwhelming infection, and developed extensive tissue injury. Nlrp3-/- mice effectively cleared ehrlichiae, but displayed acute mortality and developed liver injury similar to wild-type mice. By contrast, Ifnar1-/- mice were highly resistant to fatal disease and had lower bacterial burden, attenuated pathology, and prolonged survival. Ifnar1-/- mice also had improved protective immune responses mediated by IFN-γ and CD4+Th1 and natural killer T cells, with lower IL-10 secretion by T cells. Importantly, heightened resistance of Ifnar1-/- mice correlated with improved autophagosome processing, and attenuated noncanonical inflammasome activation indicated by decreased activation of caspase-11 and decreased IL-1β, compared with other groups. Our findings demonstrate that IFN-I signaling promotes host susceptibility to fatal ehrlichiosis, because it mediates ehrlichia-induced immunopathology and supports bacterial replication, perhaps via activation of noncanonical inflammasomes, reduced autophagy, and suppression of protective CD4+ T cells and natural killer T-cell responses against ehrlichiae.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine