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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Immunology 1/2018

Treponema pallidum promotes macrophage polarization and activates the NLRP3 inflammasome pathway to induce interleukin-1β production

BMC Immunology > Ausgabe 1/2018
Li-Rong Lin, Wei Liu, Xiao-Zhen Zhu, Yu-Yan Chen, Zheng-Xiang Gao, Kun Gao, Man-Li Tong, Hui-Lin Zhang, Yao Xiao, Wen-Dong Li, Shu-Lian Li, Hui-Ling Lin, Li-Li Liu, Zan-Xi Fang, Jian-Jun Niu, Yong Lin, Tian-Ci Yang



The involvement of inflammasome activation and macrophage polarization during the process of syphilis infection remains unknown. In this study, A series of experiments were performed using human macrophages to research the role of NLRP3 inflammasome regulation in interleukin (IL)-1β production and its influence on macrophage polarization triggered by T. pallidum.


The results showed that in M0 macrophages treated with T. pallidum, the M1-associated markers inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), IL-1β and TNF-α were upregulated, and the M2-associated markers CD206 and IL-10 were downregulated. In addition, we observed NLRP3 inflammasome activation and IL-1β secretion in T. pallidum-treated macrophages, and the observed production of IL-1β occurred in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Moreover, the secretion of IL-1β by macrophages after T. pallidum treatment was notably reduced by anti-NLRP3 siRNA and caspase-1 inhibitor treatment. NAC, KCl, and CA074-ME treatment also suppressed IL-1β release from T. pallidum-treated macrophages.


These findings showed that T. pallidum induces M0 macrophages to undergo M1 macrophage polarization and elevate IL-1β secretion through NLRP3. Moreover, the process of NLRP3 inflammasome activation and IL-1β production in macrophages in response to T. pallidum infection involves K+ efflux, mitochondrial ROS production and cathepsin release. This study provides a new insight into the innate immune response to T. pallidum infection.
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