All-trans retinoic acid-triggered antimicrobial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis is dependent on NPC2

J Immunol. 2014 Mar 1;192(5):2280-2290. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1301686. Epub 2014 Feb 5.


A role for vitamin A in host defense against Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been suggested through epidemiological and in vitro studies; however, the mechanism is unclear. In this study, we demonstrate that vitamin A-triggered antimicrobial activity against M. tuberculosis requires expression of NPC2. Comparison of monocytes stimulated with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25D3), the biologically active forms of vitamin A and vitamin D, respectively, indicates that ATRA and 1,25D3 induce mechanistically distinct antimicrobial activities. Stimulation of primary human monocytes with ATRA did not result in expression of the antimicrobial peptide cathelicidin, which is required for 1,25D3 antimicrobial activity. In contrast, ATRA triggered a reduction in the total cellular cholesterol concentration, whereas 1,25D3 did not. Blocking ATRA-induced cellular cholesterol reduction inhibits antimicrobial activity as well. Bioinformatic analysis of ATRA- and 1,25D3-induced gene profiles suggests that NPC2 is a key gene in ATRA-induced cholesterol regulation. Knockdown experiments demonstrate that ATRA-mediated decrease in total cellular cholesterol content and increase in lysosomal acidification are both dependent upon expression of NPC2. Expression of NPC2 was lower in caseous tuberculosis granulomas and M. tuberculosis-infected monocytes compared with normal lung and uninfected cells, respectively. Loss of NPC2 expression ablated ATRA-induced antimicrobial activity. Taken together, these results suggest that the vitamin A-mediated antimicrobial mechanism against M. tuberculosis requires NPC2-dependent expression and function, indicating a key role for cellular cholesterol regulation in the innate immune response.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology
  • Carrier Proteins / immunology*
  • Cholesterol / immunology
  • Female
  • Glycoproteins / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Lysosomes / immunology
  • Male
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Monocytes / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / pathology
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins
  • Vitamins / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • NPC2 protein, human
  • Vesicular Transport Proteins
  • Vitamins
  • Tretinoin
  • Cholesterol
  • Calcitriol