Authors: Evelien T. M. Berends, Xuhui Zheng, Erin E. Zwack, Mickaël M. Ménager, Michael Cammer, Bo Shopsin, and Victor J. Torres
Staphylococcus aureus is a human pathogen responsible for high morbidity and mortality worldwide. Recurrent infections with this bacterium are common, suggesting that S. aureus thwarts the development of sterilizing immunity. S. aureus strains that cause disease in humans produce up to five different bicomponent toxins (leukocidins) that target and lyse neutrophils, innate immune cells that represent the first line of defense against S. aureus infections. However, little is known about the role of leukocidins in blunting adaptive immunity. Here, we explored the effects of leukocidins on human dendritic cells (DCs), antigen-presenting cells required for the development of adaptive immunity. Using an ex vivo infection model of primary human monocyte-derived dendritic cells, we found that S. aureus, including strains from different clonal complexes and drug resistance profiles, effectively kills DCs despite efficient phagocytosis. Although all purified leukocidins could kill DCs, infections with live bacteria revealed that S. aureus targets and kills DCs primarily via the activity of leukocidin LukAB. Moreover, using coculture experiments performed with DCs and autologous CD4+ T lymphocytes, we found that LukAB inhibits DC-mediated activation and proliferation of primary human T cells. Taken together, the data determined in the study reveal a novel immunosuppressive strategy of S. aureus whereby the bacterium blunts the development of adaptive immunity via LukAB-mediated injury of DCs.