Pathogen evasion of chemokine response through suppression of CXCL10


Abstract Clearance of intracellular pathogens, such as Leishmania ( L. ) major , depends on an immune response with well-regulated cytokine signaling. Here we describe a pathogen-mediated mechanism of evading CXCL10, a chemokine with diverse antimicrobial functions, including T cell recruitment. Infection with L. major in a human monocyte cell line induced robust CXCL10 transcription without increasing extracellular CXCL10 protein concentrations. We found that this transcriptionally independent suppression of CXCL10 is mediated by the virulence factor and protease, glycoprotein-63 ( gp63) . Specifically, GP63 cleaves CXCL10 after amino acid A81 at the base of a C-terminal alpha-helix. Cytokine cleavage by GP63 demonstrated specificity, as GP63 cleaved CXCL10 and its homologues, which all bind the CXCR3 receptor, but not distantly related chemokines, such as CXCL8 and CCL22. Further characterization demonstrated that CXCL10 cleavage activity by GP63 was produced by both extracellular promastigotes and intracellular amastigotes. Crucially, CXCL10 cleavage impaired T cell chemotaxis in vitro , indicating that cleaved CXCL10 cannot signal through CXCR3. Ultimately, we propose CXCL10 suppression is a convergent mechanism of immune evasion, as Salmonella enterica and Chlamydia trachomatis also suppress CXCL10. This commonality suggests that counteracting CXCL10 suppression may provide a generalizable therapeutic strategy against intracellular pathogens. Importance Leishmaniasis, an infectious disease that annually affects over one million people, is caused by intracellular parasites that have evolved to evade the host’s attempts to eliminate the parasite. Cutaneous leishmaniasis results in disfiguring skin lesions if the host immune system does not appropriately respond to infection. A family of molecules called chemokines coordinate recruitment of the immune cells required to eliminate infection. Here, we demonstrate a novel mechanism that Leishmania (L.) major employs to suppress host chemokines: an L. major protease cleaves chemokines known to recruit T cells that fight off infection. We observe that other common human intracellular pathogens, including Chlamydia trachomatis and Salmonella enterica , reduce levels of the same chemokines, suggesting a strong selective pressure to avoid this component of the immune response. Our study provides new insights into how intracellular pathogens interact with the host immune response to enhance pathogen survival.






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Publication Info

Antonia, Alejandro, Monica Alvarez, Esme Trahair, Kyle Gibbs, Kelly Pittman, Alyson Barnes, Jeffrey Smith, Jeffrey Smith, et al. (2019). Pathogen evasion of chemokine response through suppression of CXCL10. 10.1101/557876 Retrieved from

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Sudarshan Rajagopal

Associate Professor of Medicine

I am a physician-scientist with a research focus on G protein-coupled receptor signaling in inflammation and vascular disease and a clinical focus on pulmonary vascular disease, as I serve as Co-Director of the Duke Pulmonary Vascular Disease Center. My research spans the spectrum from clinical research in pulmonary vascular disease, to translational research in cardiovascular disease, to the basic science of receptor signaling. 

Our basic science resesarch focuses on understanding and untapping the signaling potential of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to regulate inflammation in vascular disease. GPCRs are the most common transmembrane receptors in the human genome (over 800 members) and are some of the most successful targets for drug therapies. While it has been known for some time that these receptors signal through multiple downstream effectors (such as heterotrimeric G proteins and multifunctional beta arrestin adapter proteins), over the past decade it has been better appreciated that these receptors are capable of signaling with different efficacies to these effectors, a phenomenon referred to as “biased agonism”. Ligands can be biased, by activating different pathways from one another, and receptors can be biased, by signaling to a limited number of pathways that are normally available to them. Moreover, this phenomenon also appears to be common to other transmembrane and nuclear receptors. While a growing number of biased agonists acting at multiple receptors have been identified, there is still little known regarding the mechanisms underlying biased signaling and its physiologic impact.

Much of our research focuses on the chemokine system, which consists of approximately twenty receptors and fifty ligands that display considerable promiscuity with each other in the regulation of immune cell function in inflammatory diseases. Research from our group and others have shown that many of these ligands act as biased agonists when signaling through the same receptor. We use models of inflammation such as contact hypersensitivity and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH is a disease of the pulmonary arterioles that results in right heart failure and most of its treatments target signaling by GPCRs. We use multiple approaches to probe these signaling mechanisms, including in-house pharmacological assays, advanced phosphoproteomics and single cell RNA sequencing.


Dennis Ko

Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Using Pathogens to Decipher Genetic Variation Connecting Cell Biology and Disease Susceptibility
Despite improvements in public health, advancements in vaccines, and the development of many classes of antibiotics, infectious disease is still responsible for over a quarter of all deaths worldwide. However, even for the most devastating of pandemics, individuals demonstrate a large variability in the severity of infection. The long-term goal of the lab is to understand the genetic basis for differences in susceptibility to infection and related inflammatory disorders. We approach this question through a combination of experimental and computational approaches that combine high-throughput cell biology with quantitative human genetics. The identified genetic differences serve as the starting point for exploring new cell biology and human disease susceptibility genes.

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