Francisella tularensis is a highly virulent Gram-negative bacterium causing the zoonotic disease tularemia. Arthropod-borne transmission plays an important role in transferring the disease to humans. F. tularensis induces very low amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines during infection, due to inhibition of immune signaling pathways and an unusual structure of its lipopolysaccharide (LPS). To date, there is no vaccine available that is approved for public use, although an attenuated live vaccine strain (LVS) is commonly used as a model of the more infectious Francisella strains. To produce an effective vaccine it is important to understand the lifecycle of F. tularensis, including the interaction with the arthropod hosts. Drosophila melanogaster is a widely used model organism, which is increasingly being used in host-pathogen interaction studies as the immune pathways in flies are evolutionary conserved to the immune pathways in humans. An important part of the immune defense of D. melanogaster as well as of arthropods in general is the production of antimicrobial peptides. These peptides primarily target the bacterial membrane, inhibiting bacterial proliferation or directly killing the bacteria.
The aim of this thesis was to establish D. melanogaster as a model for F. tularensis infection and as a model for arthropod vectors of F. tularensis. Also, to use D. melanogaster to further study the interaction between F. tularensis and arthropod vectors, with specific regard to the host immune signaling and arthropod antimicrobial peptides.
F. tularensis LVS infects and kills D. melanogaster in a dose-dependent manner. During an infection, bacteria are found inside fly hemocytes, phagocytic blood cells, similar as in human infections. In mammals genes of the intracellular growth locus (igl) are important for virulence. In this work it is shown that the igl genes are also important for virulence in flies. These results demonstrate that D. melanogaster can be used as a model to study F. tularensis-host interactions.
LVS induces a prolonged activation of several immune signaling pathways in the fly, but seem to interfere with the JNK signaling pathway, similarly as in mammals. Overexpression of the JNK pathway in flies has a protective effect on fly survival.
Relish mutant flies, essentially lacking a production of antimicrobial peptides, succumb quickly to a F. tularensis infection, however, F. tularensis is relatively resistant to individual D. melanogaster antimicrobial peptides. Overexpressing antimicrobial peptide genes in wildtype flies has a protective effect on F. tularensis infection, suggesting that a combination of several antimicrobial peptides is necessary to control F. tularensis. The production of numerous antimicrobial peptides might be why D. melanogaster survives relatively long after infection. An intact structure of the lipid A and of the Kdo core of Francisella LPS is necessary for resistance to antimicrobial peptides and full virulence in flies. These results are similar to previous studies in mammals. In contrast to studies in mammals, genes affecting the O-antigen of F. tularensis LPS are not necessary for virulence in flies.
In conclusion, this thesis work shows that D. melanogaster can be used as a model for studying F. tularensis-host interactions. LVS activates several immune pathways during infection, but interfere with the JNK pathway. Overexpressing the JNK pathway results in increased survival of flies infected with LVS. Despite rather high resistance to individual antimicrobial peptides, exposure to a combination of several D. melanogaster antimicrobial peptides reduces the virulence of F. tularensis.
Umeå: Umeå Universitet , 2012. , 45 p.
2012-05-25, E04, by 6E, Norrlands universitetssjukhus, Umeå, 09:00 (English)