Age-related differences in IL-1 signaling and capsule serotype affect persistence of <i>Streptococcus pneumoniae</i> colonization

by Kirsten Kuipers, Kristen L. Lokken, Tonia Zangari, Mark A. Boyer, Sunny Shin, Jeffrey N. Weiser

Young age is a risk factor for prolonged colonization by common pathogens residing in their upper respiratory tract (URT). Why children present with more persistent colonization is unknown and there is relatively little insight into the host-pathogen interactions that contribute to persistent colonization. To identify factors permissive for persistent colonization during infancy, we utilized an infant mouse model of Streptococcus pneumoniae colonization in which clearance from the mucosal surface of the URT requires many weeks to months. Loss of a single bacterial factor, the pore-forming toxin pneumolysin (Ply), and loss of a single host factor, IL-1α, led to more persistent colonization. Exogenous administration of Ply promoted IL-1 responses and clearance, and intranasal treatment with IL-1α was sufficient to reduce colonization density. Major factors known to affect the duration of natural colonization include host age and pneumococcal capsular serotype. qRT-PCR analysis of the uninfected URT mucosa showed reduced baseline expression of genes involved in IL-1 signaling in infant compared to adult mice. In line with this observation, IL-1 signaling was important in initiating clearance in adult mice but had no effect on early colonization of infant mice. In contrast to the effect of age, isogenic constructs of different capsular serotype showed differences in colonization persistence but induced similar IL-1 responses. Altogether, this work underscores the importance of toxin-induced IL-1α responses in determining the outcome of colonization, clearance versus persistence. Our findings about IL-1 signaling as a function of host age may provide an explanation for the increased susceptibility and more prolonged colonization during early childhood.

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