Immune Evasion and Survival Strategies of Mycobacterium : Role for Host Signaling Pathway-Mediated Micro RNAs and Epigenetic Regulation
The genus Mycobacterium represents more than 120 species of bacteria including the pathogenic M. tuberculosis, the etiological agent of tuberculosis. The host mounts a robust inflammatory and cell-mediated response to contain the spread of pathogenic mycobacteria. While macrophages, dendritic cells (DCs) and neutrophils are known to facilitate early responses, the effector functions of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are critical for containment of the mycobacteria. The type I T helper (Th1) subset of CD4+ T cell population orchestrates the protective immunity through cytokines like interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-12, IL-23 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α However, it is known that despite such responses, host can only contain but not eradicate the infection. Additionally, infection of over one-third of the world’s population with pathogenic mycobacteria is a testimony of its success as a pathogen. Much of its success is attributed to the multiple evasion strategies employed such as inhibition of phagosome-lysosome fusion, secretion of reactive oxygen intermediates antagonistic proteins like superoxide dismutase and catalase, downregulation of antigen presentation to T cells, downregulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, skewing the immune balance toward the less effective Th2 responses, inhibition of autophagy, induction of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and immunosuppressive cytokines etc. Thus, an effective check on the infection would be possible if we understand the mechanisms underlying such evasion and survival strategies. In this perspective, evaluation of the host-pathogen interactions in terms of integration of key signaling centers, particularly that during mycobacteria-macrophage or mycobacteria-DC interactions, would underscore as a critical requisite to detail the immune responses and its regulation. This study addresses three such immune evasion and survival strategies employed by the mycobacteria; downregulation of IFN-γ-induced autophagy in macrophages, expansion of Tregs by modulating DC phenotype and finally epigenetic regulation of genes involved in foamy macrophage generation. Autophagy is one of the major immune mechanisms engaged to clear intracellular infectious agents. It contributes to both innate and adaptive immune responses to infections and plays an essential role in restricting intracellular pathogens and delivering pathogen-derived antigens for major histocompatibility complex class II presentation. Nonetheless, several pathogens, especially viruses such as herpes simplex virus, human immunodeficiency virus, influenza; and bacteria like Mycobacteria, Shigella and Listeria exhibit multiple mechanisms to evade autophagy. However, the identities and contributions of host signaling molecules and mechanisms by which pathogens modulate autophagy have not been explored in depth. Here, we demonstrate that M. bovis BCG, Shigella flexneri and Listeria monocytogenes but not Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli inhibit IFN-γ-induced autophagy in macrophages by evoking selective and robust activation of WNT and sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathways via mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR). Utilization of macrophages derived from mir155-null mice or by conventional siRNA or miRNA mimics emphasized the role for mTOR-responsive epigenetic modifications in the induction of microRNAs, miR-155 and miR-31 to fine-tune autophagy. Importantly, cellular levels of PP2A, a phosphatase, were regulated by miR-155 and miR-31. Diminished expression of PP2A led to inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3β, a negative regulator and a nodal link that regulate WNT and SHH pathways. This facilitated the prolonged activation of WNT and SHH signaling pathways. Further, sustained WNT and SHH signaling effectuated the expression of anti-inflammatory lipoxygenases (ALOX5 and ALOX15), which in tandem inhibited IFN-γ-induced janus kinase (JAK)- signal transducer of activated (STAT) signaling and contributed to evasion of autophagy. Together, we have identified novel molecular mechanisms and host factors that are crucial to control autophagy and help the bacterial pathogens like mycobacteria to evade the host immune responses. Much of the protective immunity against mycobacterial infection is mediated by Th1 CD4+ T cells. However, suppressive T cell populations such as CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ Tregs or a less effective Th2 cells are exploited by mycobacteria to subvert the protective host immune response. In this perspective, the molecular mechanisms underlying mycobacteria-induced Treg expansion are unclear. Utilizing cues from the previous reports from others’ and our laboratory, we explored the role for host signaling pathways such as SHH, WNT and NOTCH1 signaling during mycobacteria-mediated DC maturation and Treg generation/expansion. We demonstrate that while inhibition of SHH signaling markedly reduced the ability of the infected DCs to expand Tregs, NOTCH1 signaling functioned to suppress M. bovis BCG-induced Treg expansion. Though SHH and NOTCH1 signaling did not regulate the DC maturation during infection in terms of the maturation markers CD1a, HLA-DR, CD40, CD83, CD80 and CD86, pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α, IL-2, IL-1β and IL-6 were moderately NOTCH1-responsive and suppressed by SHH signaling. Further, M. bovis BCG-induced SHH signaling and Treg expansion was mediated by the classical phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)-mTOR-nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) cascade. Recent studies have attributed the role for programmed death ligand (PD-L)1 and cyclooxygenase (COX)-2-catalyzed prostaglandin (PG)E2 during expansion of Tregs. Experiments utilizing pharmacological inhibitors and conventional siRNAs indicated that both PD-L1 and COX-2/PGE2 were induced upon M. bovis BCG and M. tuberculosis infection in DCs and were regulated by SHH signaling. While SHH-responsive transcription factor, GLI1 arbitrated COX-2 expression, mycobacteria-stimulated SHH signaling was found to suppress miR-324 and miR-338, bonafide miRNAs that target PD-L1, to aid increased expression of PD-L1 and Treg expansion. This highlights the bi-functional role of SHH signaling during mycobacterial infection of DCs. Further, we found interesting cross-regulation of NOTCH and SHH pathway functions during M. bovis BCG infection of DCs. Inhibition of NOTCH1 signaling resulted in elevated expression of infection-induced PD-L1 whereas inhibition of SHH signaling showed increased transcripts of JAGGED2 (JAG2), a NOTCH1 ligand, and NOTCH intracellular domain (NICD), a marker for NOTCH activation. Thus, our results demonstrate that Mycobacterium directs a fine-balance of host signaling pathways and molecular regulators in DCs to determine the functional outcome of the immune responses including Tregs expansion that favours its survival. Foamy macrophages (FMs) are integral components of granulomas during mycobacterial pathogenesis. FMs are one of the morphotypes differentiated from macrophages characterized by the presence of lipid bodies (LBs)/droplets. The lipids provide nutrients to mycobacteria, leading to an enhanced ability to survive and replicate in host FMs. LBs are also known to regulate lipid metabolism, membrane trafficking, intracellular signaling and inflammatory mediator production. Interestingly, LBs are stores for various immune mediators including arachidonic acid, COX-2, ALOX5, ALOX15 and leukotrienes, underscoring the significance of FMs in the current study. However, molecular mechanisms that regulate intracellular lipid accumulation in FMs in the course of mycobacterial infection are not clear. Here, we analyzed the role for one of the histone modifications widely implicated in shaping the immune responses, Histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), a known marker for gene silencing. While the trimethylation of H3K27 is catalyzed by EZH2, a component of Polycomb-repressive complex (PRC)2, Jumonji C (JmjC) domain protein (JMJD3) is a well-established H3K27me3 demethylase. Unlike M. smegmatis, infection of macrophages with M. tuberculosis or M. bovis BCG displayed JMJD3-dependent LB formation. Supporting this observation, the genes involved in lipid biosynthesis (Ascl1, Adrp, Psap) and uptake (Fat (CD36) and Msr1) were significantly upregulated with M. tuberculosis or M. bovis BCG infection of macrophages in a JMJD3- and TLR2-dependent manner. Abca1 and Abcg1, genes assisting in lipid export were downregulated or remained unchanged with M. tuberculosis or M. bovis BCG infection. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis revealed a reduced H3K27me3 mark on the promoters of the selected genes that were upregulated on mycobacterial infections. Corresponding, elevated recruitment of JMJD3 to these promoters was observed. Interestingly, NOTCH1 signaling-responsive MUSASHI (MSI), an evolutionarily conserved RNA-binding protein that inhibits translation of the mRNA, was found to positively regulate infection-induced JMJD3 expression. MSI targeted a transcriptional repressor of JMJD3, Msx2-interacting nuclear target protein (MINT/ SPEN), in the infected macrophages to aid in FM formation. Immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence experiments utilizing in vivo murine granuloma model using M. bovis BCG substantiated these observations. Thus, our study has unveiled novel roles for JMJD3 and its regulators in epigenetic regulation of LB generation in FMs. Altogether, we have established significant roles for several new host factors and inhibitory, survival mechanisms employed by pathogenic mycobacteria. Emphasis on functions of miRNAs and epigenetic regulation in the study has underscored the importance of fine-tuning immune responses during mycobacterial pathogenesis to determine the cell-fate and shape the course of infection. Further understanding and evaluation of these molecular regulators bears potential importance in disease control by aiding the search for effective drugs and therapeutics.