Lack of the IFN-γ signal leads to lethal Orientia tsutsugamushi infection in mice with skin eschar lesions

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Scrub typhus is an acute febrile disease due to Orientia tsutsugamushi (Ot) infection and can be life-threatening with organ failure, hemorrhage, and fatality. Yet, little is known as to how the host reacts to Ot bacteria at early stages of infection; no reports have addressed the functional roles of type I versus type II interferon (IFN) responses in scrub typhus. In this study, we used comprehensive intradermal (i.d.) inoculation models and two clinically predominant Ot strains (Karp and Gilliam) to uncover early immune events. Karp infection induced sequential expression of Ifnb and Ifng in inflamed skin and draining lymph nodes at days 1 and 3 post-infection. Using double Ifnar1-/-Ifngr1-/- and Stat1-/- mice, we found that deficiency in IFN/STAT1 signaling resulted in lethal infection with profound pathology and skin eschar lesions, which resembled to human scrub typhus. Further analyses demonstrated that deficiency in IFN-γ, but not IFN-I, resulted in impaired NK cell and macrophage activation and uncontrolled bacterial growth and dissemination, leading to metabolic dysregulation, excessive inflammatory cell infiltration, and exacerbated tissue damage. NK cells were found to be the major cellular source of innate IFN-γ, contributing to the initial Ot control in the draining lymph nodes. In vitro studies with dendritic cell cultures revealed a superior antibacterial effect offered by IFN-γ than IFN-β. Comparative in vivo studies with Karpand Gilliam-infection revealed a crucial role of IFN-γ signaling in protection against progression of eschar lesions and Ot infection lethality. Additionally, our i.d. mouse models of lethal infection with eschar lesions are promising tools for immunological study and vaccine development for scrub typhus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1012020
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number5 May
StatePublished - May 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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