Phagocytes have developed various antimicrobial defense mechanisms to eliminate pathogens. They comprise the oxidative burst, acidification of phagosomes, or fusion of phagosomes with lysosomes. Facultative intracellular bacteria, in return, have developed strategies counteracting the host cell defense, resulting in intramacrophagic survival. Until lately, only very little was known about the phagosomal compartment containing Brucella spp., the environmental conditions the bacteria encounter, and the pathogen's stress response. Recently, we have determined that the phagosomes acidify rapidly to a pH of 4.0-4.5 following infection, but this early acidification is crucial for intracellular replication as neutralization results in bacterial elimination. A vacuolar proton-ATPase is responsible for this phenomenon that is not linked to phagosome-lysosome fusion. On the contrary, in vitro reconstitution assays revealed association only between phagosomes containing killed B. suis and lysosomes, describing the absence of phagolysosome fusion due to specific recognition inhibition for live bacteria. Further evidence for the necessity of an intact, acidic phagosome as a predominant niche of brucellae in macrophages was obtained with a strain of B. suis secreting listeriolysin. It partially disrupts the phagosomal membranes and fails to multiply intracellularly. How does B. suis adapt to this environment? We have identified and studied a series of genes that are involved in this process of adaptation. The bacterial heat shock protein and chaperone DnaK is induced in phagocytes and it is essential for intracellular multiplication. A low-level, constitutive expression of dnaK following promoter exchange does not restore intramacrophagic survival. Another chaperone and heat shock protein, ClpB, belonging to the family of ClpATPases, is important for the resistance of B. suis to several in vitro stresses, but does not contribute to intramacrophagic survival of the pathogen. Additional bacterial genes specifically induced within the phagocyte were identified by an intramacrophagic screen of random promoter fusions to the reporter gene gfp. A large majority of these genes are encoding proteins involved in transport of nutrients (sugars, amino acids), or cofactors, such as nickel. Analysis of the intracellular gene activation reveals that low oxygen tension is encountered by B. suis. Altogether, these results suggest three major stress conditions encountered by brucellae in the phagosome: acid stress, starvation and low oxygen tension.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.