Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) is an emerging tickborne illness caused by an intracellular bacterium that infects neutrophils. Cells susceptible to HGE express sialylated Lewis x (CD15s), a ligand for cell selectins. We demonstrate that adhesion of HGE to both HL60 cells and normal bone marrow cells directly correlates with their CD15s expression. HGE infection of HL60 cells, bone marrow progenitors, granulocytes, and monocytes was blocked by monoclonal antibodies against CD15s. However, these antibodies did not inhibit HGE binding, and anti-CD15s was capable of inhibiting the growth of HGE after its entry into the target cell. In contrast, neuraminidase treatment of HL60 cells prevented both HGE binding and infection. A cloned cell line (HL60-A2), derived from HL60 cells and resistant to HGE, was deficient in the expression of α-(1,3)fucosyltransferase (Fuc-TVII), an enzyme known to be required for CD15s biosynthesis. Less than 1% of HL60-A2 cells expressed CD15s, and only these rare CD15s-expressing cells bound HGE and became infected. After transfection with Fuc-TVII, cells regained CD15s expression, as well as their ability to bind HGE and become infected. Thus, CD15s expression is highly correlated with susceptibility to HGE, and it, and/or a closely related sialylated and α-(1,3) fucosylated molecule, plays a key role in HGE infection, an observation that may help explain the organism's tropism for leukocytes.
Jesse L. Goodman, Curtis M. Nelson, Marina B. Klein, Stanley F. Hayes, Brent W. Weston