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Macrophage-specific responses to human- and animal-adapted tubercle bacilli reveal pathogen and host factors driving multinucleated cell formation

Queval, CJ; Fearns, A; Botella, L; Smyth, A; Schnettger, L; Mitermite, M; Wooff, E; Villarreal-Ramos, B; Garcia-Jimenez, W; Heunis, T; Trost, M; Werling, D; Salguero, FJ; Gordon, SV; Gutierrez, MG


CJ Queval

A Fearns

L Botella

A Smyth

L Schnettger

M Mitermite

E Wooff

B Villarreal-Ramos

W Garcia-Jimenez

T Heunis

M Trost

D Werling

FJ Salguero

SV Gordon

MG Gutierrez


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) is a group of related pathogens that cause tuberculosis (TB) in mammals. MTBC species are distinguished by their ability to sustain in distinct host populations. While Mycobacterium bovis (Mbv) sustains transmission cycles in cattle and wild animals and causes zoonotic TB, M. tuberculosis (Mtb) affects human populations and seldom causes disease in cattle. The host and pathogen determinants underlying host tropism between MTBC species are still unknown. Macrophages are the main host cell that encounters mycobacteria upon initial infection, and we hypothesised that early interactions between the macrophage and mycobacteria influence species-specific disease outcome. To identify factors that contribute to host tropism, we analysed blood-derived primary human and bovine macrophages (hM phi or bM phi, respectively) infected with Mbv and Mtb. We show that Mbv and Mtb reside in different cellular compartments and differentially replicate in hM phi whereas both Mbv and Mtb efficiently replicate in bM phi. Specifically, we show that out of the four infection combinations, only the infection of bM phi with Mbv promoted the formation of multinucleated giant cells (MNGCs), a hallmark of tuberculous granulomas. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that both MPB70 from Mbv and extracellular vesicles released by Mbv-infected bM phi promote macrophage multinucleation. Importantly, we extend our in vitro studies to show that granulomas from Mbv-infected but not Mtb-infected cattle contained higher numbers of MNGCs. Our findings implicate MNGC formation in the contrasting pathology between Mtb and Mbv for the bovine host and identify MPB70 from Mbv and extracellular vesicles from bM phi as mediators of this process. Author summary The identification of host and pathogen factors contributing to host-pathogen interaction is crucial to understand the pathogenesis and dissemination of tuberculosis. This is particularly the case in deciphering the mechanistic basis for host-tropism across the MTBC. Here, we show that in vitro, M. bovis but not M. tuberculosis induces multinucleated cell formation in bovine macrophages. We identified host and pathogen mechanistic drivers of multinucleated cell formation: MPB70 as the M. bovis factor and bovine macrophage extracellular vesicles. Using a cattle experimental infection model, we confirmed differential multinucleated cell formation in vivo. Thus, we have identified host and pathogen factors that contribute to host tropism in human/bovine tuberculosis. Additionally, this work provides an explanation for the long-standing association of multinucleated cells with tuberculosis pathogenesis.


Queval, C., Fearns, A., Botella, L., Smyth, A., Schnettger, L., Mitermite, M., …Gutierrez, M. (2021). Macrophage-specific responses to human- and animal-adapted tubercle bacilli reveal pathogen and host factors driving multinucleated cell formation. PLoS Pathogens, 17(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 19, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jan 11, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 11, 2022
Print ISSN 1553-7366
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 3
Public URL


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