Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Medical Sciences


Dr. James B. Mahony


Chlamydia pneumoniae is a Gram-negative bacterial pathogen that has evolved to survive completely within the intracellular environment of a host cell. The obligate intracellular lifestyle of this bacterium necessitates an efficient invasion strategy, exemplified by a broad host cell tropism with little propensity for any single cell type and the ability to replicate within both professional phagocytic cells and cells with low phagocytic capacity. After cellular invasion, C. pneumoniae actively evades host immune defenses, establishes a parasitic relationship with the host cell and forms a microcolony by dividing within a non-fusogenic cytoplasmic vacuole called an inclusion. The varied spectrum of host cell pathways modified by C. pneumoniae suggests a complex interaction between the bacteria and the host cell. Identifying the requisite host-pathogen interactions contributing to C.pneumoniae virulence is a major research goal. While the morphological features of the chlamydial development cycle have been described in detail, our understanding of the cellular and molecular events underlying C.pneumoniae invasion and potential mechanisms of disease pathogenesis are preliminary. The work presented in this thesis examines cellular and molecular interactions between C.pneumoniae and various types of host cells during invasion and intracellular growth of chlamydiae. Some of the research questions addressed herein are framed within the context of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, with the a posteriori reasoning that a potential microbiologic contribution to human atherosclerosis, specifically due to C.pneumoniae infection, is suggested by several converging lines of investigation. We found that c.pneumoniae invasion of human epithelial cells requires bacterial-induced remodeling of the host acting cytoskeleton and the activation of at least two host cell signal transduction pathways. These host modifications are required for C.pneumoniae uptake but not cellular attachment, suggesting that the C.pneumoniae invasion sequence is biphastic, whereby initial attachment is rapidly followed by activation of host cell signaling and actin polymerization to facilitate uptake. Secondly, we used cDNA array technology to study the endothelial cell transcriptional response to C.pneumoniae infection and found a prominent transactivation of several cytokines, chemokines and smooth muscle cell growth factor genes during early times after infection. Furthermore, using cell culture-based experiments and an established rabbit model of C. pneumoniae-induced artherosclerosis, we showed that C. pneomoniae infection is associated with paracrine activation of smooth muscle cell proliferation and aortic intimal thickening, potentially mediated through platelet-derived growth factor.

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