Neisseria gonorrhoeae survives within and modulates apoptosis and inflammatory cytokine production of human macrophages

Alice Château, H. Steven Seifert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The human-adapted organism Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the causative agent of gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection. It readily colonizes the genital, rectal and nasalpharyngeal mucosa during infection. While it is well established that N.gonorrhoeae recruits and modulates the functions of polymorphonuclear leukocytes during infection, how N.gonorrhoeae interacts with macrophages present in infected tissue is not fully defined. We studied the interactions of N.gonorrhoeae with two human monocytic cell lines, THP-1 and U937, and primary monocytes, all differentiated into macrophages. Most engulfed bacteria were killed in the phagolysosome, but a subset of bacteria was able to survive and replicate inside the macrophages suggesting that those cells may be an unexplored cellular reservoir for N.gonorrhoeae during infection. N.gonorrhoeae was able to modulate macrophage apoptosis: N.gonorrhoeae induced apoptosis in THP-1 cells whereas it inhibited induced apoptosis in U937 cells and primary human macrophages. Furthermore, N.gonorrhoeae induced expression of inflammatory cytokines in macrophages, suggesting a role for macrophages in recruiting polymorphonuclear leukocytes to the site of infection. These results indicate macrophages may serve as a significant replicative niche for N.gonorrhoeae and play an important role in gonorrheal pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)546-560
Number of pages15
JournalCellular Microbiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Apoptosis
  • Cytokines
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Macrophages
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Virology


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