Inflammasome signalling during Salmonella Typhimurium infection
The innate immune system is the first line of defence against infection. It is comprised of physicochemical barriers and a variety of cell types including macrophages and dendritic cells. Pathogens express specific pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMP) which are recognised by pattern recognition receptors (PRR) on macrophages to initiate an innate immune response. Gram-negative bacteria such as Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium express a range of bacterial PAMPs recognised by Toll-like receptors (TLRs) including lipopolysaccharides (LPS) recognised by TLR-4 and lipoproteins by TLR-2. The activation of TLRs results in activation of nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) to drive transcription of mRNA coding for pro-inflammatory proteins such as tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) and pro-interleukin (IL) 1β. Myeloid cells also possess intracellular PRRs including the nucleotide-binding domain and leucine-rich repeat (NLR) family. NLR family CARD domain- containing protein 4 (NLRC4) and NLR family pyrin domain-containing protein 3 (NLRP3) are the main NLRs engaged in recognising S. Typhimurium infection, leading to formation of the inflammasome. The inflammasome is a macromolecular complex assembled in the cytoplasm, and usually contains a NLR, the structural protein apoptosis-associated speck-like protein containing a CARD (ASC) and effector enzymes such as cysteine-dependent aspartate-directed protease (caspase) -1 and caspase-8. This structure is responsible for processing the cytokines pro- IL-1β and pro-IL-18 to their mature form and is involved in triggering a pro-inflammatory process of cell death termed pyroptosis. The formation of the inflammasome therefore results in cell death and secretion of proinflammatory cytokines which play important roles in controlling infections. Inflammasome activity must be tightly coordinated, as its dysregulation is associated with a variety of auto-inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. The signalling events leading to inflammasome assembly are poorly understood and the molecules involved in fine-tuning its activity are only beginning to be discovered. The aim of this thesis was to discover new molecules involved in inflammasome activation and/or in keeping its activity in check. To achieve this goal, I performed S. Typhimurium infection assays in primary bone marrow derived macrophages (BMDM) derived from C57BL/6 mice wild type (WT) and compared the resulting cellular viability, intracellular bacteria counts and IL-1β production to that of BMDMs derived from C57BL/6 mice lacking proteins involved with, or suspected to be involved with, innate immune activity. Amongst the proteins I studied, caspase recruitment domain 9 (CARD9) inhibited inflammasome-mediated IL-1β production. Multiple independent genome-wide association studies link this protein to inflammatory pathologies such as Crohn’s disease, but its role in canonical inflammasomes was largely unexplored. To investigate how CARD9 inhibits inflammasome-mediated IL-1β production I have conducted assays in WT and Card9-/- BMDMs, including stimulation of specific NLRs with their purified ligands, infection with bacterial strains deficient in NLRC4 activation, and infection assays in presence of pharmacological inhibitors. By employing these approaches, I observed that CARD9 has a negative role on NLRP3-dependent IL-1β production. Specifically, in response to activation of the NLRP3 by Salmonella infection, CARD9 negatively regulates pro-IL-1β transcription, and decreases IL-1β processing by inhibiting spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK)-mediated NLRP3 activation and represses caspase-8 activity in the inflammasome. CARD9 expression is suppressed in the course of S. Typhimurium infection which may act as a mechanism to increase IL-1β production during the infection. In conclusion, I have established a connection between CARD9 and IL-1β production by the canonical NLRP3 inflammasome and elucidated some of the mechanisms involved in this process. I have also found evidence that other proteins are likely to be involved in inflammasome regulation and the elucidation of their roles will be addressed in future studies.