DC, through the uptake, processing, and presentation of antigen, are responsible for activation of T cell responses to defend the host against infection, yet it is not known if they can directly kill invading bacteria. Here, we studied in human leprosy, how Langerhans cells (LC), specialized DC, contribute to host defense against bacterial infection. IFN-γ treatment of LC isolated from human epidermis and infected with Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae) activated an antimicrobial activity, which was dependent on the upregulation of the antimicrobial peptide cathelicidin and induction of autophagy. IFN-γ induction of autophagy promoted fusion of phagosomes containing M. leprae with lysosomes and the delivery of cathelicidin to the intracellular compartment containing the pathogen. Autophagy enhanced the ability of M. leprae–infected LC to present antigen to CD1a-restricted T cells. The frequency of IFN-γ labeling and LC containing both cathelicidin and autophagic vesicles was greater in the self-healing lesions vs. progressive lesions, thus correlating with the effectiveness of host defense against the pathogen. These data indicate that autophagy links the ability of DC to kill and degrade an invading pathogen, ensuring cell survival from the infection while facilitating presentation of microbial antigens to resident T cells.
Angeline Tilly Dang, Rosane M.B. Teles, Phillip T. Liu, Aaron Choi, Annalisa Legaspi, Euzenir N. Sarno, Maria T. Ochoa, Kislay Parvatiyar, Genhong Cheng, Michel Gilliet, Barry R. Bloom, Robert L. Modlin