By: Xiao Wang

Title: Macrophage programming and host responses to bacterial infection


Macrophages are dynamic, plastic, and heterogeneous immune cells that play an important role in host immune defense against bacterial infection. Various bacterial pathogens, such as Neisseria meningitidis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, can modulate host immune responses by interfering with macrophage
differentiation and polarization. The focus of this thesis was to understand the role of macrophages in the pathogenesis of bacteria-induced diseases, which has important implications in the search for novel therapeutic strategies to control those infectious diseases. In Paper I, we found that NhhA, a conserved meningococcal outer membrane protein, can activate macrophages through both Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-dependent and -independent pathways. In Paper II, we demonstrated that NhhA activates monocytes through TLR2 and triggers autocrine IL-10 and TNF production through the ERK and JNK pathways, which skew monocyte differentiation into CD200Rhi macrophages. These immune homeostatic macrophages are associated with nasopharyngeal carriage of meningococci. In Paper III, we examined the role of human CD46, a ubiquitous transmembrane protein, in regulating macrophage apoptosis, differentiation, and functional polarization. We revealed that macrophages expressing CD46 exhibit an M1 phenotype and are prone to generate proinflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6, TNF, and IL-12, upon lipopolysaccharide challenge or meningococcal infection. The important role of these macrophages in the development of septic shock was further confirmed by in vivo studies using a CD46 transgenic mouse disease model. M. tuberculosis, a gram-positive bacterium, remains an important cause of death in developing countries. In Paper IV, we reported that murine macrophages expressing human CD46 exhibit enhanced viability and bactericidal capacity and are prone to form granulomas following chronic mycobacterial infection. Increased understanding of host factor roles in the physiopathology of tuberculosis is critical for the design of effective vaccines and new drugs.

Keywords: Macrophages, meningococci, mycobacteria, NhhA, CD46, cytokines.