The Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) is a group of opportunistic bacteria chronically infecting the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Several laboratories have shown that Bcc members, in particular B. cenocepacia, survive within a membrane-bound vacuole inside phagocytic and epithelial cells. We have previously demonstrated that intracellular B. cenocepacia causes a delay in phagosomal maturation, as revealed by impaired acidification and slow accumulation of the late phagolysosomal marker LAMP-1. In this study, we demonstrate that uninfected cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR)-defective macrophages or normal macrophages treated with a CFTR-specific drug inhibitor display normal acidification. However, after ingestion of B. cenocepacia, acidification and phagolysosomal fusion of the bacteria-containing vacuoles occur in a lower percentage of CFTR-negative macrophages than CFTR-positive cells, suggesting that loss of CFTR function contributes to enhance bacterial intracellular survival. The CFTR-associated phagosomal maturation defect was absent in macrophages exposed to heat-inactivated B. cenocepacia and macrophages infected with a non-CF pathogen such as Salmonella enterica, an intracellular pathogen that once internalized rapidly traffics to acidic compartments that acquire lysosomal markers. These results suggest that not only a defective CFTR but also viable B. cenocepacia are required for the altered trafficking phenotype. We conclude that CFTR may play a role in the mechanism of clearance of the intracellular infection, as we have shown before that B. cenocepacia cells localized to the lysosome lose cell envelope integrity. Therefore, the prolonged maturation arrest of the vacuoles containing B. cenocepacia within cftr(-/-) macrophages could be a contributing factor in the persistence of the bacteria within CF patients.
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