Scrub typhus is a life-threatening disease caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi, a bacterium that primarily infects endothelial cells both in vitro and in vivo. Evidence suggests that the interaction of O. tsutsugamushi with myeloid cells may play a pivotal role in O. tsutsugamushi infection. We demonstrated that O. tsutsugamushi replicated within human monocyte-derived macrophages. Bacteria stimulated the expression of a large number of genes, including type I interferon genes, interferon-stimulated genes, inflammation-associated genes and apoptosis-related genes, and the release of inflammatory cytokines such as Tumor Necrosis Factor and interleukin-1β. In addition, O. tsutsugamushi induced an M1-type genetic program in macrophages. O. tsutsugamushi viability was required for the type I interferon response and, to a lesser degree, for the inflammatory response. As interferon-γ is known to elicit M1 polarization, we assessed the effect of interferon-γ on the fate of O. tsutsugamushi in macrophages. Exogenous interferon-γ partially inhibited O. tsutsugamushi replication within macrophages. Our results suggest that the inflammatory response induced by O. tsutsugamushi may account for the local and systemic inflammation observed in scrub typhus.
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