Inhibition of macrophage phagocytosis by Pseudomonas aeruginosa rhamnolipids in vitro and in vivo

Curr Microbiol. 1996 Aug;33(2):109-17. doi: 10.1007/s002849900084.


Patients with cystic fibrosis often have chronic and ultimately lethal pulmonary infections with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In order to understand why these bacteria resist pulmonary clearance, we have investigated the interaction of P. aeruginosa and phagocytic cells. In an earlier study we reported that sub-lytic concentrations of two glycolipids produced by P. aeruginosa (the mono- and dirhamnolipids) caused structural changes in human monocyte-derived macrophages, and at lower concentrations inhibited the phagocytosis of Staphylococcus epidermidis by these cells. In the present study we demonstrate that rhamnolipids also inhibit the in vitro phagocytosis of both P. aeruginosa and Saccharomyces cerevisiae by thioglycollate-elicited mouse peritoneal macrophages. Using lucifer yellow to label the lysosomal compartments of macrophages, we determined that rhamnolipids interfere with the internalization of attached particles and reduce the level of phagosome-lysosome fusion of internalized targets within macrophages. We also demonstrate that physiologically relevant concentrations of rhamnolipids injected intratracheally into rat lungs inhibited the response of alveolar macrophages to a challenge of zymosan particles in vivo. These studies further demonstrate the profound inhibitory effects of P. aeruginosa rhamnolipids on macrophage function and are consistent with our hypothesis that the in situ production of these rhamnolipids directly contributes to the persistence of this pathogen in cystic fibrosis patient lungs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Lipids / pharmacology*
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Phagocytosis / drug effects*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Time Factors
  • Zymosan


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Zymosan