Many bacterial athogens, including Listeria species and the spotted fever group (SFG) of Rickettsia species, invade host cells, escape from the invasion vacuole, and then grow in the cytosol, where they mobilize the host actin cytoskeleton to power intracellular motility and cell-to-cell spread. The ability of these bacteria to spread between cells without leaving the confines of the cell enables evasion of the humoral immune response, and is a key contributor to their virulence in spotted fever illness (R. rickettsii and R parkeri in the U.S.) and listeriosis (L. monocytogenes). Despite the importance of cell-to-cell spread in infection and virulence, this process is the most poorly understood stage in the intracellular life cycle of these pathogens. Cell-to-cell spread of Listeria and SFG Rickettsia occurs in steps that include collision with the donor cell membrane, formation of a protrusion, internalization of the protrusion into a vacuole by a recipient cell, and vacuole escape. However, we do not know which cellular pathways in the host are exploited by these pathogens at each step in this process. In the exploratory experiments proposed here, we will test the overall hypothesis that the steps of Listeria and Rickettsia spread require both overlapping and distinct sets of host proteins, including those important for cortical cytoskeletal function, cell adhesion, phagocytosis and endocytosis. In particular, we will answer two questions. Which host proteins are functionally important for Rickettsia or Listeria spread, and is their role general or pathogen specific? Moreover, at which stage of spread does each host protein act, and are they required in the donor or recipient cell? In Aim 1, we will carry out parallel RNAi screens, targeting 180 host factors important for cortical cytoskeleton function, cell-cell adhesion, phagocytosis and endocytosis, and evaluate the impact of gene silencing on both Rickettsia and Listeria spread. This comparative approach will reveal proteins and pathways that are generally important for pathogen spread, as well as those that are specifically important for each pathogen.
In Aim 2, we will use a combination of RNAi and live cell imaging to test the specific hypotheses that cortical cytoskeleton and cell-cell adhesion proteins act in protrusion formation in the donor cell and engulfment into the recipient cell, whereas phagocytosis and endocytosis proteins act in protrusion engulfment. Additionally, we will examine how each factor functions by determining its localization during spread and testing whether its activity is required in the donor or recipiet cell. Through these exploratory experiments, we will develop a framework for understanding crucial mechanisms of pathogen cell- to-cell spread that will set the stage for a more mechanistic understanding of this process. These studies may reveal new mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions, new approaches for diagnosing and treating infections, and new principles of cell-cell interaction and communication in uninfected cells.

Public Health Relevance

Bacterial pathogens in the genera Rickettsia and Listeria cause serious human diseases, including spotted fever, typhus and listeriosis. The proposed exploratory work seeks to identify crucial molecular pathways in host cells that are mobilized by Rickettsia and Listeria for cell-to-cell spread during infection. Such pathways include those involved in cortical cytoskeleton organization, cell-cell adhesion, phagocytosis and endocytosis. These studies may reveal new mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions, and new approaches for diagnosing and treating infections.

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-B (80))
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Perdue, Samuel S
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University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Lamason, Rebecca L; Welch, Matthew D (2017) Actin-based motility and cell-to-cell spread of bacterial pathogens. Curr Opin Microbiol 35:48-57
Choe, Julie E; Welch, Matthew D (2016) Actin-based motility of bacterial pathogens: mechanistic diversity and its impact on virulence. Pathog Dis :
Lamason, Rebecca L; Bastounis, Effie; Kafai, Natasha M et al. (2016) Rickettsia Sca4 Reduces Vinculin-Mediated Intercellular Tension to Promote Spread. Cell 167:670-683.e10
Benanti, Erin L; Nguyen, Catherine M; Welch, Matthew D (2015) Virulent Burkholderia species mimic host actin polymerases to drive actin-based motility. Cell 161:348-60