Inability to sustain intraphagolysosomal killing of Staphylococcus aureus predisposes to bacterial persistence in macrophages

Jamil Jubrail, Paul Morris, Martin A Bewley, Simon Stoneham, Simon A Johnston, Simon J Foster, Andrew A Peden, Robert C Read, Helen M Marriott, David H Dockrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Macrophages are critical effectors of the early innate response to bacteria in tissues. Phagocytosis and killing of bacteria are interrelated functions essential for bacterial clearance but the rate-limiting step when macrophages are challenged with large numbers of the major medical pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is unknown. We show that macrophages have a finite capacity for intracellular killing and fail to match sustained phagocytosis with sustained microbial killing when exposed to large inocula of S. aureus (Newman, SH1000 and USA300 strains). S. aureus ingestion by macrophages is associated with a rapid decline in bacterial viability immediately after phagocytosis. However, not all bacteria are killed in the phagolysosome, and we demonstrate reduced acidification of the phagolysosome, associated with failure of phagolysosomal maturation and reduced activation of cathepsin D. This results in accumulation of viable intracellular bacteria in macrophages. We show macrophages fail to engage apoptosis-associated bacterial killing. Ultittop mately macrophages with viable bacteria undergo cell lysis, and viable bacteria are released and can be internalized by other macrophages. We show that cycles of lysis and reuptake maintain a pool of viable intracellular bacteria over time when killing is overwhelmed and demonstrate intracellular persistence in alveolar macrophages in the lungs in a murine model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-96
Number of pages17
JournalCellular Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Macrophages
  • Mice
  • Microbial Viability
  • Phagocytosis
  • Pneumonia, Staphylococcal
  • Staphylococcus aureus


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