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Strain- and host species-specific inflammasome activation, IL-1β release, and cell death in macrophages infected with uropathogenic Escherichia coli

Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) is the main etiological agent of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Little is known about interactions between UPEC and the inflammasome, a key innate immune pathway. Here we show that UPEC strains CFT073 and UTI89 trigger inflammasome activation and lytic cell death in human macrophages. Several other UPEC strains, including two multidrug-resistant ST131 isolates, did not kill macrophages. In mouse macrophages, UTI89 triggered cell death only at a high multiplicity of infection, and CFT073-mediated inflammasome responses were completely NLRP3-dependent. Surprisingly, CFT073- and UTI89-mediated responses only partially depended on NLRP3 in human macrophages. In these cells, NLRP3 was required for interleukin-1β (IL-1β) maturation, but contributed only marginally to cell death. Similarly, caspase-1 inhibition did not block cell death in human macrophages. In keeping with such differences, the pore-forming toxin α-hemolysin mediated a substantial proportion of CFT073-triggered IL-1β secretion in mouse but not human macrophages. There was also a more substantial α-hemolysin-independent cell death response in human vs. mouse macrophages. Thus, in mouse macrophages, CFT073-triggered inflammasome responses are completely NLRP3-dependent, and largely α-hemolysin-dependent. In contrast, UPEC activates an NLRP3-independent cell death pathway and an α-hemolysin-independent IL-1β secretion pathway in human macrophages. This has important implications for understanding UTI in humans.

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