Primary Murine Macrophages as a Tool for Virulence Factor Discovery in Coxiella burnetii. Academic Article uri icon


  • Coxiella burnetii requires a type IVB secretion system (T4SS) to promote intracellular replication and virulence. We hypothesized that Coxiella employs its T4SS to secrete effectors that enable stealthy colonization of immune cells. To address this, we used RNA sequencing to compare the transcriptional response of murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDM) infected with those of wild-type Coxiella and a T4SS-null mutant at 8 and 24 h postinfection. We found a T4SS-independent upregulation of proinflammatory transcripts which was consistent with a proinflammatory polarization phenotype. Despite this, infected BMDM failed to completely polarize, as evidenced by modest surface expression of CD38 and CD11c, nitrate production, and reduced proinflammatory cytokine and chemokine secretion compared to positive controls. As these BMDM permitted replication of C. burnetii, we employed them to identify T4SS effectors that are essential in the specific cellular context of a primary macrophage. We found five Himar1 transposon mutants in T4SS effectors that had a replication defect in BMDM but not J774A.1 cells. The mutants were also attenuated in a SCID mouse model of infection. Among these candidate virulence factors, we found that CBU1639 contributed to the inhibition of macrophage proinflammatory responses to Coxiella infection. These data demonstrate that while T4SS is dispensable for the stealthy invasion of primary macrophages, Coxiella has evolved multiple T4SS effectors that specifically target macrophage function to proliferate within that specific cellular context. IMPORTANCE Coxiella burnetii, the causative agent of Q fever, preferentially infects macrophages of the respiratory tract when causing human disease. This work describes how primary macrophages respond to C. burnetii at the earliest stages of infection, before bacterial replication. We found that while infected macrophages increase expression of proinflammatory genes after bacterial entry, they fail to activate the accompanying antibacterial functions that might ultimately control the infection. This disconnect between initial response and downstream function was not mediated by the bacterium's type IVB secretion system, suggesting that Coxiella has other virulence factors that dampen host responses early in the infection process. Nevertheless, we were able to identify several type IVB secreted effectors that were specifically required for survival in macrophages and mice. This work is the first to identify type IVB secretion effectors that are specifically required for infection and replication within primary macrophages.

published proceedings

  • Microbiol Spectr

altmetric score

  • 2

author list (cited authors)

  • Case, E., Mahapatra, S., Hoffpauir, C. T., Konganti, K., Hillhouse, A. E., Samuel, J. E., & Van Schaik, E. J.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Case, Elizabeth Di Russo||Mahapatra, Saugata||Hoffpauir, Caitlyn T||Konganti, Kranti||Hillhouse, Andrew E||Samuel, James E||Van Schaik, Erin J

editor list (cited editors)

  • Brissette, C. A.

publication date

  • August 2022