Relative Contributions of Extracellular and Internalized Bacteria to Early Macrophage Proinflammatory Responses to Streptococcus pneumoniae

mBio. 2019 Sep 24;10(5):e02144-19. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02144-19.


Both intracellular immune sensing and extracellular innate immune sensing have been implicated in initiating macrophage proinflammatory cytokine responses to Streptococcus pneumoniae The S. pneumoniae capsule, a major virulence determinant, prevents phagocytosis, and we hypothesized that this would reduce activation of host innate inflammatory responses by preventing activation of intracellular proinflammatory signaling pathways. We investigated this hypothesis in human monocyte-derived macrophages stimulated with encapsulated or isogenic unencapsulated mutant S. pneumoniae Unexpectedly, despite strongly inhibiting bacterial internalization, the capsule resulted in enhanced inflammatory cytokine production by macrophages infected with S. pneumoniae Experiments using purified capsule material and a Streptococcus mitis mutant expressing an S. pneumoniae serotype 4 capsule indicated these differences required whole bacteria and were not due to proinflammatory effects of the capsule itself. Transcriptional profiling demonstrated relatively few differences in macrophage gene expression profiles between infections with encapsulated S. pneumoniae and those with unencapsulated S. pneumoniae, largely limited to reduced expression of proinflammatory genes in response to unencapsulated bacteria, predicted to be due to reduced activation of the NF-κB family of transcription factors. Blocking S. pneumoniae internalization using cytochalasin D had minimal effects on the inflammatory response to S. pneumoniae Experiments using murine macrophages indicated that the affected genes were dependent on Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) activation, although not through direct stimulation of TLR2 by capsule polysaccharide. Our data demonstrate that the early macrophage proinflammatory response to S. pneumoniae is mainly dependent on extracellular bacteria and reveal an unexpected proinflammatory effect of encapsulated S. pneumoniae that could contribute to disease pathogenesis.IMPORTANCE Multiple extra- and intracellular innate immune receptors have been identified that recognize Streptococcus pneumoniae, but the relative contributions of intra- versus extracellular bacteria to the inflammatory response were unknown. We have shown that intracellular S. pneumoniae contributes surprisingly little to the inflammatory responses, with production of important proinflammatory cytokines largely dependent on extracellular bacteria. Furthermore, although we expected the S. pneumoniae polysaccharide capsule to block activation of the host immune system by reducing bacterial internalization and therefore activation of intracellular innate immune receptors, there was an increased inflammatory response to encapsulated compared to unencapsulated bacteria, which is likely to contribute to disease pathogenesis.

Keywords: Streptococcus pneumoniae; TLR2; capsule; inflammation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / pathogenicity*


  • Bacterial Proteins