Intracellular survival of Burkholderia cenocepacia in macrophages is associated with a delay in the maturation of bacteria-containing vacuoles.


Strains of the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) are opportunistic bacteria that can cause life-threatening infections in patients with cystic fibrosis and chronic granulomatous disease. Previous work has shown that Bcc isolates can persist in membrane-bound vacuoles within amoeba and macrophages without bacterial replication, but the detailed mechanism of bacterial persistence is unknown. In this study, we have investigated the survival of the Burkholderia cenocepacia strain J2315 within RAW264.7 murine macrophages. Strain J2315 is a prototypic isolate of the widespread and transmissible ET12 clone. Unlike heat-inactivated bacteria, which reach lysosomes shortly after internalization, vacuoles containing live B. cenocepacia J2315 accumulate the late endosome/lysosome marker LAMP-1 and start fusing with lysosomal compartments only after 6 h post internalization. Using fluorescent fluid-phase probes, we also demonstrated that B. cenocepacia-containing vacuoles continued to interact with newly formed endosomes, and maintained a luminal pH of 6.4 +/- 0.12. In contrast, vacuoles containing heat-inactivated bacteria had an average pH of 4.8 +/- 0.03 and rapidly merged with lysosomes. Additional experiments using concanamycin A, a specific inhibitor of the vacuolar H+-ATPase, revealed that vacuoles containing live bacteria did not exclude the H+-ATPase. This mode of bacterial survival did not require type III secretion, as no differences were found between wild type and a type III secretion mutant strain. Collectively, our results suggest that intracellular B. cenocepacia cause a delay in the maturation of the phagosome, which may contribute to facilitate bacterial escape from the microbicidal activities of the host cell.

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