Mycobacterium tuberculosis PPE51 Inhibits Autophagy by Suppressing Toll-Like Receptor 2-Dependent Signaling

Emily Strong, Jia Wang, Tony W. Ng, Steven A. Porcelli, Sunhee Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autophagy is an ubiquitous homeostatic pathway in mammalian cells and plays a significant role in host immunity. Substantial evidence indicates that the ability of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) to successfully evade immune responses is partially due to inhibition of autophagic pathways. Our previous screening of Mtb transposon mutants identified the PPE51 protein as an important autophagy-inhibiting effector. We found that expression of PPE51, either by infecting bacteria or by direct expression in host cells, suppressed responses to potent autophagy-inducing stimuli and interfered with bacterial phagocytosis. This phenotype was associated with reduced activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), a key component of signaling pathways that stimulate autophagy. Multiple lines of evidence demonstrated that the effects of PPE51 are attributable to signal blocking by Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2), a receptor with known involvement of activation of ERK1/ 2 and autophagy. Consistent with these results, mice with intact TLR2 signaling showed striking virulence attenuation for an Mtb ppe51 deletion mutant (D51) compared to wild-type Mtb, whereas infection of TLR2-deficient mice showed no such attenuation. Mice infected with D51 also displayed increased T cell responses to Mtb antigens and increased autophagy in infected lung tissues. Together, these results suggest that TLR2 activates relevant host immune functions during mycobacterial infection, which Mtb then evades through suppression of TLR2 signaling by PPE51. In addition to its previously identified function transporting substrates across the bacterial cell wall, our results demonstrate a direct role of PPE51 for evasion of both innate and adaptive immunity to Mtb. IMPORTANCE Tuberculosis is a significant global infectious disease caused by infection of the lungs with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which resides and replicates mainly within host phagocytic cells. During coevolution with humans, Mtb has acquired various mechanisms to inhibit host cellular processes, including autophagy. Autophagy is a complex host cellular process that helps control intracellular infections by enhancing innate and adaptive immune responses. We identified the Mtb protein PPE51 as a mycobacterial effector that inhibits autophagy. We discovered TLR2 and mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling as the axis by which PPE51 mediates this effect. Autophagy regulation by PPE51, along with suppression of other TLR2-activated host cell functions, leads to increased bacterial survival in phagocytic cells and tissues of infected mice. A better understanding of how Mtb regulates autophagy and other host immune effectors could facilitate the design of new therapeutics or vaccines against tuberculosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Toll-like receptor 2
  • autophagy
  • host-microbe interaction
  • innate immunity
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase ERK1/2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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