IL-16 promotes T. whipplei replication by inhibiting phagosome conversion and modulating macrophage activation

PLoS One. 2010 Oct 21;5(10):e13561. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013561.


The replication of Tropheryma whipplei (the agent of Whipple's disease) within human macrophages is associated with the expression of IL-16, a cytokine known for its chemotactic and inflammatory properties. In this study, we asked whether IL-16 acts on T. whipplei replication by interfering with the endocytic pathway. We observed that in macrophages, T. whipplei was located within late phagosomes that were unable to fuse with lysosomes; in monocytes, T. whipplei was eliminated in phagolysosomes. Moreover, adding IL-16 to monocytes induced bacterial replication and inhibited phagolysosome formation. On the other hand, blocking IL-16 activity, either with anti-IL-16 antibodies in human macrophages or by using murine IL-16(-/-) bone marrow-derived macrophages, inhibited T. whipplei replication and rescued phagolysosome biogenesis. Furthermore, we propose that IL-16-mediated interference with the endocytic pathway is likely related to macrophage activation. First, IFNγ induced T. whipplei elimination and phagolysosome formation and inhibited IL-16 production by macrophages. Second, the full transcriptional response of murine macrophages to T. whipplei showed that T. whipplei specifically modulated the expression of 231 probes in IL-16(-/-) macrophages. Gene Ontology analysis revealed that 10 of 13 over-represented terms were linked to immune responses, including proinflammatory transcriptional factors of the NF-κB family. Our results demonstrated a previously unreported function for IL-16 in promoting bacterial replication through inhibited phagolysosome biogenesis and modulated macrophage activation program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocytosis
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-16 / physiology*
  • Macrophage Activation*
  • Mice
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phagosomes*
  • Tropheryma / growth & development*


  • Interleukin-16