Characterisation of the phagocytic uptake of Aspergillus fumigatus conidia by macrophages


Luther K, Rohde M, Sturm K, Kotz A, Heesemann J, Ebel F

Date: 4 March 2008


Aspergillus fumigatus is an opportunistic fungal pathogen responsible for severe, life-threatening infections in immunocompromised patients. Airborne conidia are the infectious agent and can reach the lower parts of the respiratory system. In the lung, phagocytes represent the first line of defence. Resident macrophages are able to track down, engulf and kill the invading spores. Phagocytosis of the conidia is therefore a prerequisite for their efficient elimination. Using human and murine macrophages we analysed the phagocytic uptake of A. fumigatus conidia. We found that conidial phagocytosis is an actin-depending process that additionally requires myosin motor, phosphoinositide-3-phosphate kinase and tyrosine kinase activity. Both broad range tyrosine kinase inhibitors and inhibitors that specifically block src kinases had a strong impact on the conidial uptake. Immunofluorescence data demonstrate the recruitment of tyrosine-phosphorylated proteins to the vicinity of engulfed conidia. Uptake of the conidia was accompanied by a strong and local reorganisation of the actin cytoskeleton, whereas no prominent reorganisation was apparent for the microtubules. Both confocal immunofluorescence and electron microscopic data revealed the presence of large ruffle-like structures engaged in the uptake of conidia. This suggests that the internalisation of A. fumigatus spores can be mediated by a process resembling macropinocytosis, which is furthermore supported by the detection of intracellular conidia within spacious vacuoles. Taken together, our data provide new insights into the internalisation of A. fumigatus spores by macrophages, a key process in the early immune defence against an Aspergillus infection.

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