Background: Exposure to microorganisms elicts the production of cytokines. These soluble factors enhance several innate immune functions and regulate the ensuing specific immune response aimed at limiting the spread of infection.
Aim: This study was undertaken to quantify the plasma levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines during the course of primary Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter jejuni infection. Using an in vivo infection the relationship between endogenous cytokines and the bacterial number in the liver of infected animals was examined.
Methods: C57BL/6 mice were infected by the intraperitoneal route. At different time points we determined the number of colony-forming units of bacteria in the liver of infected animals and paralled these with the plasma levels of interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) measured by enzyme immunoassays.
Results: L. monocytogenes infection lasted 10-11 days. IFN-gamma production occurred in the early phase but was more pronounced after day 4, following the appearance of specific immunity. The duration of experimental campylobacteriosis was 15 days. Early IFN-gamma production was not significant but a progressive rise of this cytokine in plasma was seen during the second week post infection. Mice produced measurable amounts of plasma TNF-alpha immediately after being given viable L. monocytogenes, peaking on day 2-3 when the greatest number of bacteria was present in the examined organs. During C. jejuni infection plasma TNF-alpha was produced in a similar manner, but the highest concentrations were found a few days later than in listeriosis, in correlation with the different course of campylobacteriosis. The quantity of IL-6 increased and decreased in concordance with clearance of L monocytogenes and the clinical status of the animals. C. jejuni did not promote the induction of this cytokine. This is to some extent an unusual finding. With respect to the role of IL-6 in Th2 responses and antibody production, the appearance of this cytokine in campylobacteriosis was more expected.
Discussion: During systemic bacterial infection, a network of pro-inflammatory cytokines is activated and blood levels of these cytokines are elevated, albeit inconsistently, with large individual variations and depending on microbial characteristics and structure.