High levels of nitric oxide production decrease early but increase late survival of Brucella abortus in macrophages

Microb Pathog. 2001 Nov;31(5):221-30. doi: 10.1006/mpat.2001.0463.


Nitric oxide (NO), produced by the iNOS protein, is known as a defense mechanism against various pathogens and an apoptotic inducer of cells. Apoptosis can also be a host protective mechanism against intracellular bacteria. The intracellular survival of Brucella abortus in RAW264.7 macrophages was examined under conditions of the apoptotic inducer, NO. Since B. abortus does not induce high output of NO, Escherichia coli LPS and IFN-gamma, as potential therapeutic modalities, were added to increase the expression of iNOS, and thus NO. Using 10 ng/ml E. coli LPS and 25 U/ml IFN-gamma, nitrite production was as high as 140 microM by 72 h. However, when macrophages were infected with B. abortus, the nitrite concentration was 60 microM after 72 h post infection, greater than a two-fold decrease. The number of surviving bacteria decreased, from 6 to 24 h, in the presence of nitrite accumulation. In the absence of B. abortus there was an increase in apoptotic cells at 72 h with high nitrite accumulation. In contrast, the number of macrophage apoptotic bodies decreased in the presence of B. abortus. The data suggest that: (i) NO accelerates the killing of intracellular B. abortus, but not to completion during the first 24 h of infection; (ii) B. abortus can prevent apoptosis as an advantage for bacterial survival inside macrophages and (iii) surviving intracellular bacteria then replicate steadily after 24 h. B. abortus probably expresses genes that counteract the effect of a high NO environment or activates genes to utilize NO as a nitrogen source, as the Brucella genome codes for nitric and nitrous oxide reductase genes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Brucella abortus / growth & development*
  • Brucella abortus / pathogenicity
  • Brucellosis / microbiology*
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Isothiuronium / analogs & derivatives*
  • Macrophages / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / biosynthesis
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nitrites / metabolism


  • Nitrites
  • Isothiuronium
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nos2 protein, mouse
  • S-methylisothiopseudouronium