People with iron overload disorders are more susceptible to serious infections with Yersinia and other bacterial pathogens, yet how and why the course of infection differs in these individuals remains unclear. Mutations that predispose humans to one such iron overload disorder, hereditary hemochromatosis, are very common. One hereditary hemochromatosis-associated mutation in the High Iron Fe gene (Hfe-C282Y) is found in 10% of people of Northern European descent. People with hereditary hemochromatosis accumulate iron in their livers and other tissues, which can lead to increased oxidative stress and organ damage if left untreated. However, hereditary hemochromatosis is also associated with low macrophage iron and immune system defects. Several excellent mouse models of hereditary hemochromatosis exist that recapitulate many symptoms of the human disease. However, these models have been underutilized in terms of characterizing susceptibility to infection. We have identified a gene in the foodborne pathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis that controls expression of the type III secretion system (T3SS), a specialized apparatus required by all pathogenic Yersinia to cause disease. This gene has significant homology to the E. coli transcription factor IscR, whose activity is controlled by iron availability and oxidative stress, both of which are abnormal in hereditary hemochromatosis. We hypothesize that IscR is important for proper control of T3SS expression and virulence of Y. pseudotuberculosis and the related pathogen Y. enterocolitica in healthy and iron overloaded hosts.
In Aim 1, we will determine the susceptibility of two distinct hereditary hemochromatosis mouse models to infection with Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. enterocolitica, correlating bacterial replication with tissue iron content and production of inflammatory mediators.
In Aim 2, we will determine the Y. pseudotuberculosis protein and RNA genes controlled by changes in iron availability as well as genes controlled by IscR. In addition, the impact of IscR on Y. pseudotuberculosis virulence in healthy and iron overloaded hosts will be determined using the hereditary hemochromatosis mouse models. At the conclusion of this study, we will have established several parameters controlling Yersinia infection in iron overloaded hosts, determined the identity of important Yersinia genes controlled by changes in iron availability, completed initial characterization of th previously-unstudied Yersinia IscR gene, and developed important new tools for further investigating Yersinia pathogenesis and iron overload.

Public Health Relevance

Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States, in which organs such as the liver become overloaded with iron. People with hereditary hemochromatosis are more susceptible to serious infections with Yersinia as well as other bacterial pathogens. However, it is not clear whether increased iron availability for bacterial growth or defects in immune function predispose patients with hereditary hemochromatosis to these serious infections. This project investigates the underlying causes of enhanced susceptibility to Yersinia infection in mammals with hereditary hemochromatosis and examines how changes in iron availability control expression of Yersinia genes vital for causing disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IDM-A (80))
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Alexander, William A
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University of California Santa Cruz
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Santa Cruz
United States
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Miller, Halie K; Kwuan, Laura; Schwiesow, Leah et al. (2014) IscR is essential for yersinia pseudotuberculosis type III secretion and virulence. PLoS Pathog 10:e1004194