Macrophage activation by IFN-γ triggers restriction of phagosomal copper from intracellular pathogens

by Qian Shen, Matthew J. Beucler, Stephanie C. Ray, Chad A. Rappleye

Copper toxicity and copper limitation can both be effective host defense mechanisms against pathogens. Tolerance of high copper by fungi makes toxicity as a defense mechanism largely ineffective against fungal pathogens. A forward genetic screen for Histoplasma capsulatum mutant yeasts unable to replicate within macrophages showed the Ctr3 copper transporter is required for intramacrophage proliferation. Ctr3 mediates copper uptake and is required for growth in low copper. Transcription of the CTR3 gene is induced by differentiation of H. capsulatum into pathogenic yeasts and by low available copper, but not decreased iron. Low expression of a CTR3 transcriptional reporter by intracellular yeasts implies that phagosomes of non-activated macrophages have moderate copper levels. This is further supported by the replication of Ctr3-deficient yeasts within the phagosome of non-activated macrophages. However, IFN-γ activation of phagocytes causes restriction of phagosomal copper as shown by upregulation of the CTR3 transcriptional reporter and by the failure of Ctr3-deficient yeasts, but not Ctr3 expressing yeasts, to proliferate within these macrophages. Accordingly, in a respiratory model of histoplasmosis, Ctr3-deficient yeasts are fully virulent during phases of the innate immune response but are attenuated after the onset of adaptive immunity. Thus, while technical limitations prevent direct measurement of phagosomal copper concentrations and copper-independent factors can influence gene expression, both the CTR3 promoter induction and the attenuation of Ctr3-deficient yeasts indicate activation of macrophages switches the phagosome from a copper-replete to a copper-depleted environment, forcing H. capsulatum reliance on Ctr3 for copper acquisition.

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