European Mast Cell and
Basophil Research Network

Mast Cell Cytonemes as a Defense Mechanism against Coxiella burnetii


Mast cells (MCs) are critical mediators of inflammation; however, their microbicidal activity against invading pathogens remains largely unknown. Here, we describe a nonpreviously reported antibacterial mechanism used by MCs against Coxiella burnetii, the agent of Q fever. We show that C. burnetii interaction with MCs does not result in bacterial uptake but rather induces the formation of extracellular actin filaments named cytonemes. MC cytonemes express cathelicidin and neutrophil elastase and mediate the capture and destruction of entrapped bacteria. We provide evidence that MC cytoneme formation and microbicidal activity are dependent on the cooperation of the scavenger receptor CD36 and Toll-like receptor 4. Taken together, our results suggest that MCs use an extracellular sophisticated mechanism of defense to eliminate intracellular pathogens, such as C. burnetii, before their entry into host cells.IMPORTANCE Mast cells (MCs) are found in tissues that are in close contact with external environment, such as skin, lungs, or intestinal mucosa but also in the placenta during pregnancy. If their role in mediating allergic conditions is established, several studies now highlight their importance during infection with extracellular pathogens. This study showed a new and effective antimicrobial mechanism of MCs against Coxiella burnetii, an intracellular bacterium whose infection during pregnancy is associated with abortion, preterm labor, and stillbirth. The data reveal that in response to C. burnetii, MCs release extracellular actin filaments that contain antimicrobial agents and are capable to trap and kill bacteria. We show that this mechanism is dependent on the cooperation of two membrane receptors, CD36 and Toll-like receptor 4, and may occur in the placenta during pregnancy by using ex vivo placental MCs. Overall, this study reports an unexpected role for MCs during infection with intracellular bacteria and suggests that MC response to C. burnetii infection is a protective defense mechanism during pregnancy.


Mezouar S, Vitte J, Gorvel L, Ben Amara A, Desnues B, Mege JL (2019) Mast Cell Cytonemes as a Defense Mechanism against Coxiella burnetii. MBio Apr 16;10(2). pii: e02669-18. PMID: 30992359 PMCID: PMC6469977 DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02669-18


Looking for other posts?

EMBRN Council elections

Our society needs to renew part of its Council for the next mandate During the general assembly of our society that will take place during the