Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Contributes to Inflammatory Pathology in the Placenta during Brucella abortus Infection.


Research on Brucella pathogenesis has focused primarily on its ability to cause persistent intracellular infection of the mononuclear phagocyte system. At these sites, Brucella abortus evades innate immunity, which results in low-level inflammation and chronic infection of phagocytes. In contrast, the host response in the placenta during infection is characterized by severe inflammation and extensive extracellular replication of B. abortus. Despite the importance of reproductive disease caused by Brucella infection, our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in placental inflammation and abortion is limited. To understand the immune responses specifically driving placental pathology, we modeled placental B. abortus infection in pregnant mice. B. abortus infection caused an increase in the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), specifically in the placenta. We found that placental expression levels of and circulating TNF-α were dependent on the induction of endoplasmic reticulum stress and the B. abortus type IV secretion system (T4SS) effector protein VceC. Blockade of TNF-α reduced placental inflammation and improved fetal viability in mice. This work sheds light on a tissue-specific response of the placenta to B. abortus infection that may be important for bacterial transmission via abortion in the natural host species.