Orientia tsutsugamushi stimulates an original gene expression program in monocytes: relationship with gene expression in patients with scrub typhus

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 May;5(5):e1028. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001028. Epub 2011 May 17.


Orientia tsutsugamushi is the causal agent of scrub typhus, a public health problem in the Asia-Pacific region and a life-threatening disease. O. tsutsugamushi is an obligate intracellular bacterium that mainly infects endothelial cells. We demonstrated here that O. tsutsugamushi also replicated in monocytes isolated from healthy donors. In addition, O. tsutsugamushi altered the expression of more than 4,500 genes, as demonstrated by microarray analysis. The expression of type I interferon, interferon-stimulated genes and genes associated with the M1 polarization of macrophages was significantly upregulated. O. tsutsugamushi also induced the expression of apoptosis-related genes and promoted cell death in a small percentage of monocytes. Live organisms were indispensable to the type I interferon response and apoptosis and enhanced the expression of M1-associated cytokines. These data were related to the transcriptional changes detected in mononuclear cells isolated from patients with scrub typhus. Here, the microarray analyses revealed the upregulation of 613 genes, which included interferon-related genes, and some features of M1 polarization were observed in these patients, similar to what was observed in O. tsutsugamushi-stimulated monocytes in vitro. This is the first report demonstrating that monocytes are clearly polarized in vitro and ex vivo following exposure to O. tsutsugamushi. These results would improve our understanding of the pathogenesis of scrub typhus, during which interferon-mediated activation of monocytes and their subsequent polarization into an M1 phenotype appear critical. This study may give us a clue of new tools for the diagnosis of patients with scrub typhus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apoptosis
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / biosynthesis
  • Male
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Monocytes / microbiology*
  • Orientia tsutsugamushi / immunology*
  • Scrub Typhus / genetics
  • Scrub Typhus / immunology*
  • Scrub Typhus / microbiology*


  • Cytokines
  • Interferon Type I