Interferon-γ Is a Crucial Activator of Early Host Immune Defense against Mycobacterium ulcerans Infection in Mice

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2016 Feb 10;10(2):e0004450. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0004450. eCollection 2016 Feb.


Buruli ulcer (BU), caused by infection with Mycobacterium ulcerans, is a chronic necrotizing human skin disease associated with the production of the cytotoxic macrolide exotoxin mycolactone. Despite extensive research, the type of immune responses elicited against this pathogen and the effector functions conferring protection against BU are not yet fully understood. While histopathological analyses of advanced BU lesions have demonstrated a mainly extracellular localization of the toxin producing acid fast bacilli, there is growing evidence for an early intra-macrophage growth phase of M. ulcerans. This has led us to investigate whether interferon-γ might play an important role in containing M. ulcerans infections. In an experimental Buruli ulcer mouse model we found that interferon-γ is indeed a critical regulator of early host immune defense against M. ulcerans infections. Interferon-γ knockout mice displayed a faster progression of the infection compared to wild-type mice. This accelerated progression was reflected in faster and more extensive tissue necrosis and oedema formation, as well as in a significantly higher bacterial burden after five weeks of infection, indicating that mice lacking interferon-γ have a reduced capacity to kill intracellular bacilli during the early intra-macrophage growth phase of M. ulcerans. This data demonstrates a prominent role of interferon-γ in early defense against M. ulcerans infection and supports the view that concepts for vaccine development against tuberculosis may also be valid for BU.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Buruli Ulcer / immunology*
  • Buruli Ulcer / microbiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans / immunology
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans / physiology*


  • Interferon-gamma

Grant support

This work was supported by the Medicor Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.