Inflammasomes are critical for host defense against bacterial pathogens. In murine macrophages infected by gram-negative bacteria, the canonical inflammasome activates caspase-1 to mediate pyroptotic cell death and release of IL-1 family cytokines. Additionally, a noncanonical inflammasome controlled by caspase-11 induces cell death and IL-1 release. However, humans do not encode caspase-11. Instead, humans encode two putative orthologs: caspase-4 and caspase-5. Whether either ortholog functions similar to caspase-11 is poorly defined. Therefore, we sought to define the inflammatory caspases in primary human macrophages that regulate inflammasome responses to gram-negative bacteria. We find that human macrophages activate inflammasomes specifically in response to diverse gram-negative bacterial pathogens that introduce bacterial products into the host cytosol using specialized secretion systems. In primary human macrophages, IL-1β secretion requires the caspase-1 inflammasome, whereas IL-1α release and cell death are caspase-1-independent. Instead, caspase-4 mediates IL-1α release and cell death. Our findings implicate human caspase-4 as a critical regulator of noncanonical inflammasome activation that initiates defense against bacterial pathogens in primary human macrophages.
Keywords: caspase-4; gram-negative bacteria; inflammasome; innate immunity; primary macrophages.