Staphylococcus aureus induces cell-surface expression of immune stimulatory NKG2D ligands on human monocytes

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Staphylococcus aureus is among the leading causes of bacterial infections worldwide. The pathogenicity and establishment of S. aureus infections are tightly linked to its ability to modulate host immunity. Persistent infections are often associated with mutant staphylococcal strains that have decreased susceptibility to antibiotics; however, little is known about how these mutations influence bacterial interaction with the host immune system. Here, we discovered that clinical S. aureus isolates activate human monocytes, leading to cell-surface expression of immune stimulatory natural killer group 2D (NKG2D) ligands on the monocytes. We found that expression of the NKG2D ligand UL16-binding protein 2 (ULBP2) is associated with bacterial degradability and phagolysosomal activity. Moreover, S. aureus-induced ULBP2 expression was linked to altered host cell metabolism, including increased cytoplasmic (iso)citrate levels, reduced glycolytic flux, and functional mitochondrial activity. Interestingly, we found that the ability of S. aureus to induce ULBP2 and proinflammatory cytokines in human monocytes depends on a functional ClpP protease in S. aureus These findings indicate that S. aureus activates ULBP2 in human monocytes through immunometabolic mechanisms and reveal that clpP inactivation may function as a potential immune evasion mechanism. Our results provide critical insight into the interplay between the host immune system and S. aureus that has evolved under the dual selective pressure of host immune responses and antibiotic treatment. Our discovery of a immune stimulatory pathway consisting of human monocyte-based defense against S. aureus suggests that targeting the NKG2D pathway holds potential for managing persistent staphylococcal infections.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Biological Chemistry
Pages (from-to)11803-11821
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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