Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-9-2017


Francisella tularensis is an extremely virulent bacterium that can be transmitted naturally by blood sucking arthropods. During mammalian infection, F. tularensis infects numerous types of host cells, including erythrocytes. As erythrocytes do not undergo phagocytosis or endocytosis, it remains unknown how F. tularensisinvades these cells. Furthermore, the consequence of inhabiting the intracellular space of red blood cells (RBCs) has not been determined. Here, we provide evidence indicating that residing within an erythrocyte enhances the ability of F. tularensis to colonize ticks following a blood meal. Erythrocyte residence protected F. tularensis from a low pH environment similar to that of gut cells of a feeding tick. Mechanistic studies revealed that the F. tularensis type VI secretion system (T6SS) was required for erythrocyte invasion as mutation of mglA (a transcriptional regulator of T6SS genes), dotU, or iglC (two genes encoding T6SS machinery) severely diminished bacterial entry into RBCs. Invasion was also inhibited upon treatment of erythrocytes with venom from the Blue-bellied black snake (Pseudechis guttatus), which aggregates spectrin in the cytoskeleton, but not inhibitors of actin polymerization and depolymerization. These data suggest that erythrocyte invasion by F. tularensis is dependent on spectrin utilization which is likely mediated by effectors delivered through the T6SS. Our results begin to elucidate the mechanism of a unique biological process facilitated by F. tularensis to invade erythrocytes, allowing for enhanced colonization of ticks.


The copy of record is available from Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology at Copyright © 2017 Schmitt, Barnes, Rogerson, Haught, Mazzella, Ford, Gilson, Birch, Sjöstedt, Reed, Franks, Stolz, Denvir, Fan, Rekulapally, Primerano and Horzempa. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.