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Dissemination of a Highly Virulent Pathogen: Tracking The Early Events That Define Infection

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The series of events that occurs immediately after pathogen entrance into the body is largely speculative. Key aspects of these events are pathogen dissemination and pathogen interactions with the immune response as the invader moves into deeper tissues. We sought to define major events that occur early during infection of a highly virulent pathogen. To this end, we tracked early dissemination of Yersinia pestis, a highly pathogenic bacterium that causes bubonic plague in mammals. Specifically, we addressed two fundamental questions: (1) do the bacteria encounter barriers in disseminating to draining lymph nodes (LN), and (2) what mechanism does this nonmotile bacterium use to reach the LN compartment, as the prevailing model predicts trafficking in association with host cells. Infection was followed through microscopy imaging in addition to assessing bacterial population dynamics during dissemination from the skin. We found and characterized an unexpected bottleneck that severely restricts bacterial dissemination to LNs. The bacteria that do not pass through this bottleneck are confined to the skin, where large numbers of neutrophils arrive and efficiently control bacterial proliferation. Notably, bottleneck formation is route dependent, as it is abrogated after subcutaneous inoculation. Using a combination of approaches, including microscopy imaging, we tested the prevailing model of bacterial dissemination from the skin into LNs and found no evidence of involvement of migrating phagocytes in dissemination. Thus, early stages of infection are defined by a bottleneck that restricts bacterial dissemination and by neutrophil-dependent control of bacterial proliferation in the skin. Furthermore, and as opposed to current models, our data indicate an intracellular stage is not required by Y. pestis to disseminate from the skin to draining LNs. Because our findings address events that occur during early encounters of pathogen with the immune response, this work can inform efforts to prevent or control infection.




Gonzalez, R. J., Lane, M. C., Wagner, N. J., Weening, E. H., & Miller, V. L. (2015). Dissemination of a Highly Virulent Pathogen: Tracking The Early Events That Define Infection. PLoS Pathogens, 11(1), 1–18.

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