Delineation of diverse macrophage activation programs in response to intracellular parasites and cytokines

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2010 Mar 30;4(3):e648. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000648.


Background: The ability to reside and proliferate in macrophages is characteristic of several infectious agents that are of major importance to public health, including the intracellular parasites Trypanosoma cruzi (the etiological agent of Chagas disease) and Leishmania species (etiological agents of Kala-Azar and cutaneous leishmaniasis). Although recent studies have elucidated some of the ways macrophages respond to these pathogens, the relationships between activation programs elicited by these pathogens and the macrophage activation programs elicited by bacterial pathogens and cytokines have not been delineated.

Methodology/principal findings: To provide a global perspective on the relationships between macrophage activation programs and to understand how certain pathogens circumvent them, we used transcriptional profiling by genome-wide microarray analysis to compare the responses of mouse macrophages following exposure to the intracellular parasites T. cruzi and Leishmania mexicana, the bacterial product lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and the cytokines IFNG, TNF, IFNB, IL-4, IL-10, and IL-17. We found that LPS induced a classical activation state that resembled macrophage stimulation by the Th1 cytokines IFNG and TNF. However, infection by the protozoan pathogen L. mexicana produced so few transcriptional changes that the infected macrophages were almost indistinguishable from uninfected cells. T. cruzi activated macrophages produced a transcriptional signature characterized by the induction of interferon-stimulated genes by 24 h post-infection. Despite this delayed IFN response by T. cruzi, the transcriptional response of macrophages infected by the kinetoplastid pathogens more closely resembled the transcriptional response of macrophages stimulated by the cytokines IL-4, IL-10, and IL-17 than macrophages stimulated by Th1 cytokines.

Conclusions/significance: This study provides global gene expression data for a diverse set of biologically significant pathogens and cytokines and identifies the relationships between macrophage activation states induced by these stimuli. By comparing macrophage activation programs to pathogens and cytokines under identical experimental conditions, we provide new insights into how macrophage responses to kinetoplastids correlate with the overall range of macrophage activation states.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Cytosol / parasitology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Leishmania mexicana / immunology*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology*
  • Macrophage Activation*
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / immunology*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides