The IL-12 Response of Primary Human Dendritic Cells and Monocytes to Toxoplasma gondii Is Stimulated by Phagocytosis of Live Parasites Rather Than Host Cell Invasion

J Immunol. 2016 Jan 1;196(1):345-56. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1501558. Epub 2015 Nov 23.


As a major natural host for Toxoplasma gondii, the mouse is widely used for the study of the immune response to this medically important protozoan parasite. However, murine innate recognition of toxoplasma depends on the interaction of parasite profilin with TLR11 and TLR12, two receptors that are functionally absent in humans. This raises the question of how human cells detect and respond to T. gondii. In this study, we show that primary monocytes and dendritic cells from peripheral blood of healthy donors produce IL-12 and other proinflammatory cytokines when exposed to toxoplasma tachyzoites. Cell fractionation studies determined that IL-12 and TNF-α secretion is limited to CD16(+) monocytes and the CD1c(+) subset of dendritic cells. In direct contrast to their murine counterparts, human myeloid cells fail to respond to soluble tachyzoite extracts and instead require contact with live parasites. Importantly, we found that tachyzoite phagocytosis, but not host cell invasion, is required for cytokine induction. Together these findings identify CD16(+) monocytes and CD1c(+) dendritic cells as the major myeloid subsets in human blood-producing innate cytokines in response to T. gondii and demonstrate an unappreciated requirement for phagocytosis of live parasites in that process. This form of pathogen sensing is distinct from that used by mice, possibly reflecting a direct involvement of rodents and not humans in the parasite life cycle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD1 / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Female
  • GPI-Linked Proteins / metabolism
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-12 / immunology*
  • Male
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • Receptors, IgG / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • Toxoplasma / immunology*
  • Toxoplasmosis / immunology*
  • Toxoplasmosis / parasitology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology


  • Antigens, CD1
  • CD1C protein, human
  • FCGR3B protein, human
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-12