The opportunistic intracellular bacterial pathogen Rhodococcus equi elicits type I interferons by engaging cytosolic DNA sensing in macrophages Institutional Repository Document uri icon


  • ABSTRACTRhodococcus equi is a major cause of foal pneumonia and an opportunistic pathogen in immunocompromised humans. While alveolar macrophages constitute the primary replicative niche for R. equi, little is known about how intracellular R. equi is sensed by macrophages. Here, we discovered that that in addition to previously characterized pro-inflammatory cytokines (e.g., Tnfa, Il6, Il1b), macrophages infected with R. equi induce a robust type I IFN response, including Ifnb and interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), similar to the evolutionarily related pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Follow up studies using a combination of mammalian and bacterial genetics, demonstrated that induction of this type I IFN expression program is largely dependent on the cGAS/STING/TBK1 axis of the cytosolic DNA surveillance pathway, suggesting that R. equi perturbs the phagosomal membrane and causes DNA release into the cytosol following phagocytosis. Consistent with this we found that a population of ~12% of R. equi phagosomes recruited the galectin-3, 8 and 9 danger receptors. Interesting, neither phagosomal damage nor induction of type I IFN required the R. equis virulence-associated plasmid. Importantly, R. equi infection of both mice and foals stimulated ISG expression, in organs (mice) and circulating monocytes (foals). By demonstrating that R. equi activates cytosolic DNA sensing in macrophages and elicits type I IFN responses in animal models, our work provides novel insights into how R. equi engages the innate immune system and furthers our understanding how this zoonotic pathogen causes inflammation and disease.IMPORTANCERhodococcus equi is a facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen of horses and other domestic animals, as well as an opportunistic pathogen of immunocompromised and rarely immunocompetent humans. In human patients, Rhodococcus pneumonia bears some pathological similarities to pulmonary tuberculosis, and poses a risk for misdiagnosis. In horses, R. equi infection has a major detrimental impact on the equine breeding industry due to a lack of an efficacious vaccine and its ubiquitous distribution in soil. Given the prevalence of subclinical infection and high false positive rate in current screening methods, there exists a critical need to identify factors contributing to positive patient outcomes. Our research identifies innate immune sensing events and immune transcriptional signatures that may lead to biomarkers for clinical disease, more accurate screening methods, and insight into susceptibility to infection.

altmetric score

  • 4.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Vail, K. J., da Silveira, B. P., Bell, S. L., Bordin, A. I., Cohen, N. D., Patrick, K. L., & Watson, R. O.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Vail, Krystal J||da Silveira, Bibiana Petri||Bell, Samantha L||Bordin, Angela I||Cohen, Noah D||Patrick, Krisitn L||Watson, Robert O

Book Title

  • bioRxiv

publication date

  • March 2021