Host immune defense against bacterial infection requires activation of conserved signaling pathways that upregulate production of inflammatory mediators to clear infection. Many bacterial pathogens inhibit these signaling pathways in order to evade host immune defenses. Such pathogens include the pathogenic Yersiniae which utilize the YopJ virulence factor to block NF-?B and MAPK signaling. How immune defense is mediated against pathogens that block immune signaling pathways remains poorly understood. NF-?B blockade in infected macrophages leads to cell death with characteristics of apoptosis, pyroptosis, and necrosis. Surprisingly, increasing cytotoxicity of Y. pseudotuberculosis or Y. pestis results in dramatically decreased virulence of the bacteria, suggesting that induction of cell death in response to Yersinia infection may be a host defense mechanism. Our central hypothesis is that cell death triggered in response to Yersinia blockade of NF- ?B and MAPK leads to pro-inflammatory cell death that alerts uninfected neighboring cells to the presence of infection. However, the mechanisms of YopJ-induced cell death and the precise role of cell death in immune defense against infection remain unclear. Multiple caspases are activated during Yersinia infection, but no specific factor(s) are yet known that are required for Yersinia-induced cell death. Our preliminary data demonstrate that caspsase-8 is required for Yersinia-induced cell death, and for host defense in response to Yersinia infection in vivo. Furthermore, caspase-8 is required for caspase-1 processing in response to Yersinia, but not in response to other caspase-1 activating stimuli. Caspase-8-dependent caspase-1 activation is a novel pathway that enables an apoptotic caspase to activate a pyroptotic cell death. However, the molecular mechanism of caspase-8-dependent caspase-1 activation remains unknown. This is an important problem as it likely functions in response to many pathogens that block critical innate immune signaling pathways and in the context of pathological stimuli that lead to caspase-8 activation We propose two Specific Aims to address this important gap in our knowledge. First we will define the molecular basis of caspase-8-dependent activation of caspase-1, and dissect the relative contribution of distinct cell death pathways to Yersinia-induced cell death. Second, we will define the role of caspase-8 in immune defense against Yersinia infection.

Public Health Relevance

Immune defense against infection relies on NF-?B and MAPK signaling. These pathways are often blocked by microbial pathogens, including pathogenic Yersinia. It is unclear how immunity against pathogens that inhibit critical signaling pathways is orchestrated. Inhibition of NF-?B and MAPK pathways by pathogens triggers cell death pathways through poorly defined mechanisms. Defining the mechanisms of macrophage cell death in response to NF-?B blockade and the role of cell death in immunity defense will provide a foundation for targeting these pathways during pathological conditions and infection.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IDM-B (80))
Program Officer
Alexander, William A
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Pennsylvania
Schools of Veterinary Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Philip, Naomi H; DeLaney, Alexandra; Peterson, Lance W et al. (2016) Activity of Uncleaved Caspase-8 Controls Anti-bacterial Immune Defense and TLR-Induced Cytokine Production Independent of Cell Death. PLoS Pathog 12:e1005910
Peterson, Lance W; Philip, Naomi H; Dillon, Christopher P et al. (2016) Cell-Extrinsic TNF Collaborates with TRIF Signaling To Promote Yersinia-Induced Apoptosis. J Immunol 197:4110-4117
Philip, Naomi H; Dillon, Christopher P; Snyder, Annelise G et al. (2014) Caspase-8 mediates caspase-1 processing and innate immune defense in response to bacterial blockade of NF-?B and MAPK signaling. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:7385-90
Chung, Lawton K; Philip, Naomi H; Schmidt, Valentina A et al. (2014) IQGAP1 is important for activation of caspase-1 in macrophages and is targeted by Yersinia pestis type III effector YopM. MBio 5:e01402-14