Elucidation of Mechanisms of Host Immunity against Orientia tsutsugamushi in a Newly Developed Murine Model
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Scrub typhus, caused by a Gram-negative obligately intracellular coccobacillus, Orientia tsutsugamushi, is a long neglected but important tropical disease. Orientia tsutsugamushi causes illness in one million people each year, with an additional 1 billion people at risk. Without appropriate diagnosis and treatment, the disease can cause severe multiorgan failure with a case fatality rate of 7-15%. The current gaps in the knowledge of immunity include the unknown mechanisms of host immunity to O. tsutsugamushi. Using an intravenous (i.v.) disseminated infection mouse model, we observed that more CD8+ T cells than CD4+ T cells were present in the spleens of infected mice at 12 days post infection (dpi). We also determined that Treg cells and the proportion of T cells producing IL-10 were significantly increased from 6 dpi, which correlated with the onset of illness, body weight loss, and increased bacterial loads. We further studied CD8-/-, MHC I-/- and wild type control (WT) C57BL/6J mice to determine the importance of CD8+ T cells and MHC I molecules. After infection with an ordinarily sub-lethal dose of O. tsutsugamushi, all CD8-/- and MHC I-/- mice expired between 12 and 15 dpi, whereas all WT mice survived. Bacterial loads in the lung, kidney, liver and spleen of CD8-/- and MHC I-/- mice were significantly greater than those in WT mice. Interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and granzyme B mRNA levels in the liver of CD8-/- and MHC I-/- mice were significantly greater than in WT mice. In addition, more severe histopathologic lesions were observed in CD8-/- mice. Finally, adoptive transfer confirmed a major role of activated CD8+ T cells, as well as a less effective contribution by activated CD8 T cell-depleted splenocytes, in protection against O. tsutsugamushi infection. These studies demonstrated the critical importance of CD8+ T cells in the host immune response during O. tsutsugamushi infection.