Rationale: Antimicrobial resistance challenges therapy of pneumonia. Enhancing macrophage microbicidal responses would combat this problem but is limited by our understanding of how alveolar macrophages (AMs) kill bacteria. Objectives: To define the role and mechanism of AM apoptosis-associated bacterial killing in the lung. Methods: We generated a unique CD68.hMcl-1 transgenic mouse with macrophage-specific overexpression of the human antiapoptotic Mcl-1 protein, a factor upregulated in AMs from patients at increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia, to address the requirement for apoptosis-associated killing. Measurements and Main Results: Wild-type and transgenic macrophages demonstrated comparable ingestion and initial phagolysosomal killing of bacteria. Continued ingestion (for ≥12 h) overwhelmed initial killing, and a second, late-phase microbicidal response killed viable bacteria in wild-type macrophages, but this response was blunted in CD68.hMcl-1 transgenic macrophages. The late phase of bacterial killing required both caspase-induced generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide, the peak generation of which coincided with the late phase of killing. The CD68.hMcl-1 transgene prevented mitochondrial reactive oxygen species but not nitric oxide generation. Apoptosis-associated killing enhanced pulmonary clearance of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae in wild-type mice but not CD68.hMcl-1 transgenic mice. Bacterial clearance was enhanced in vivo in CD68.hMcl-1 transgenic mice by reconstitution of apoptosis with BH3 mimetics or clodronate-encapsulated liposomes. Apoptosis-associated killing was not activated during Staphylococcus aureus lung infection. Conclusions: Mcl-1 upregulation prevents macrophage apoptosis-associated killing and establishes that apoptosis-associated killing is required to allow AMs to clear ingested bacteria. Engagement of macrophage apoptosis should be investigated as a novel, host-based antimicrobial strategy.
Keywords: Mcl-1; apoptosis; bacteria; macrophage; pneumonia.