Neutrophils trap and kill bacteria by forming highly decondensed chromatin structures, termed neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). We previously reported that histone hypercitrullination catalyzed by peptidylarginine deiminase 4 (PAD4) correlates with chromatin decondensation during NET formation. However, the role of PAD4 in NET-mediated bacterial trapping and killing has not been tested. Here, we use PAD4 knockout mice to show that PAD4 is essential for NET-mediated antibacterial function. Unlike PAD4(+/+) neutrophils, PAD4(-/-) neutrophils cannot form NETs after stimulation with chemokines or incubation with bacteria, and are deficient in bacterial killing by NETs. In a mouse infectious disease model of necrotizing fasciitis, PAD4(-/-) mice are more susceptible to bacterial infection than PAD4(+/+) mice due to a lack of NET formation. Moreover, we found that citrullination decreased the bacterial killing activity of histones and nucleosomes, which suggests that PAD4 mainly plays a role in chromatin decondensation to form NETs instead of increasing histone-mediated bacterial killing. Our results define a role for histone hypercitrullination in innate immunity during bacterial infection.
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