Generation of a convalescent model of virulent Francisella tularensis infection for assessment of host requirements for survival of tularemia

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33349. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033349. Epub 2012 Mar 12.


Francisella tularensis is a facultative intracellular bacterium and the causative agent of tularemia. Development of novel vaccines and therapeutics for tularemia has been hampered by the lack of understanding of which immune components are required to survive infection. Defining these requirements for protection against virulent F. tularensis, such as strain SchuS4, has been difficult since experimentally infected animals typically die within 5 days after exposure to as few as 10 bacteria. Such a short mean time to death typically precludes development, and therefore assessment, of immune responses directed against virulent F. tularensis. To enable identification of the components of the immune system that are required for survival of virulent F. tularensis, we developed a convalescent model of tularemia in C57Bl/6 mice using low dose antibiotic therapy in which the host immune response is ultimately responsible for clearance of the bacterium. Using this model we demonstrate αβTCR(+) cells, γδTCR(+) cells, and B cells are necessary to survive primary SchuS4 infection. Analysis of mice deficient in specific soluble mediators shows that IL-12p40 and IL-12p35 are essential for survival of SchuS4 infection. We also show that IFN-γ is required for survival of SchuS4 infection since mice lacking IFN-γR succumb to disease during the course of antibiotic therapy. Finally, we found that both CD4(+) and CD8(+) cells are the primary producers of IFN-γand that γδTCR(+) cells and NK cells make a minimal contribution toward production of this cytokine throughout infection. Together these data provide a novel model that identifies key cells and cytokines required for survival or exacerbation of infection with virulent F. tularensis and provides evidence that this model will be a useful tool for better understanding the dynamics of tularemia infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology*
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-12 / immunology
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Tularemia / drug therapy
  • Tularemia / immunology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta
  • Interleukin-12
  • Interferon-gamma