Host cell responses to persistent mycoplasmas--different stages in infection of HeLa cells with Mycoplasma hominis

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54219. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0054219. Epub 2013 Jan 11.


Mycoplasma hominis is a facultative human pathogen primarily associated with bacterial vaginosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, but it is also able to spread to other sites, leading to arthritis or, in neonates, meningitis. With a minimal set of 537 annotated genes, M. hominis is the second smallest self-replicating mycoplasma and thus an ideal model organism for studying the effects of an infectious agent on its host more closely. M. hominis adherence, colonisation and invasion of HeLa cells were characterised in a time-course study using scanning electron microscopy, confocal microscopy and microarray-based analysis of the HeLa cell transcriptome. At 4 h post infection, cytoadherence of M. hominis to the HeLa cell surface was accompanied by differential regulation of 723 host genes (>2 fold change in expression). Genes associated with immune responses and signal transduction pathways were mainly affected and components involved in cell-cycle regulation, growth and death were highly upregulated. At 48 h post infection, when mycoplasma invasion started, 1588 host genes were differentially expressed and expression of genes for lysosome-specific proteins associated with bacterial lysis was detected. In a chronically infected HeLa cell line (2 weeks), the proportion of intracellular mycoplasmas reached a maximum of 10% and M. hominis-filled protrusions of the host cell membrane were seen by confocal microscopy, suggesting exocytotic dissemination. Of the 1972 regulated host genes, components of the ECM-receptor interaction pathway and phagosome-related integrins were markedly increased. The immune response was quite different to that at the beginning of infection, with a prominent induction of IL1B gene expression, affecting pathways of MAPK signalling, and genes connected with cytokine-cytokine interactions and apoptosis. These data show for the first time the complex, time-dependent reaction of the host directed at mycoplasmal clearance and the counter measures of this pestering pathogen.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology
  • HeLa Cells
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Mycoplasma Infections* / genetics
  • Mycoplasma Infections* / microbiology
  • Mycoplasma hominis / genetics*
  • Mycoplasma hominis / pathogenicity
  • Pneumonia, Mycoplasma / genetics*
  • Pneumonia, Mycoplasma / microbiology
  • Transcriptome

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.