Background: The obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen Coxiella burnetii causes the zoonosis Q fever. The intracellular niche of C. burnetii has led to the assumption that cell-mediated immunity is the most important immune component for protection against this pathogen. However, passive immunization with immune serum can protect naïve animals from challenge with virulent C. burnetii, indicating a role for antibody (Ab) in protection. The mechanism of this Ab-mediated protection is unknown. Therefore, we conducted a study to determine whether Fc receptors (FcR) or complement contribute to Ab-mediated immunity (AMI) to C. burnetii.
Results: Virulent C. burnetii infects and replicates within human dendritic cells (DC) without inducing their maturation or activation. We investigated the effects of Ab opsonized C. burnetii on human monocyte-derived and murine bone marrow-derived DC. Infection of DC with Ab-opsonized C. burnetii resulted in increased expression of maturation markers and inflammatory cytokine production. Bacteria that had been incubated with naïve serum had minimal effect on DC, similar to virulent C. burnetii alone. The effect of Ab opsonized C. burnetii on DC was FcR dependent as evidenced by a reduced response of DC from FcR knockout (FcR k/o) compared to C57Bl/6 (B6) mice. To address the potential role of FcR in Ab-mediated protection in vivo, we compared the response of passively immunized FcR k/o mice to the B6 controls. Interestingly, we found that FcR are not essential for AMI to C. burnetii in vivo. We subsequently examined the role of complement in AMI by passively immunizing and challenging several different strains of complement-deficient mice and found that AMI to C. burnetii is also complement-independent.
Conclusion: Despite our data showing FcR-dependent stimulation of DC in vitro, Ab-mediated immunity to C. burnetii in vivo is FcR-independent. We also found that passive immunity to this pathogen is independent of complement.