Buruli ulcer (BU), caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is a devastating necrotizing skin disease. Key to its pathogenesis is mycolactone, the exotoxin virulence factor that is both immunosuppressive and cytotoxic. The discovery that the essential Sec61 translocon is the major cellular target of mycolactone explains much of the disease pathology, including the immune blockade. Sec61 inhibition leads to a loss in production of nearly all cytokines from monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells and T cells, as well as antigen presentation pathway proteins and costimulatory molecules. However, there has long been evidence that the immune system is not completely incapable of responding to M. ulcerans infection. In particular, IL-1β was recently shown to be present in BU lesions, and to be induced from M. ulcerans-exposed macrophages in a mycolactone-dependent manner. This has important implications for our understanding of BU, showing that mycolactone can act as the “second signal” for IL-1β production without inhibiting the pathways of unconventional secretion it uses for cellular release. In this Perspective article, we validate and discuss this recent advance, which is entirely in-line with our understanding of mycolactone’s inhibition of the Sec61 translocon. However, we also show that the IL-1 receptor, which uses the conventional secretory pathway, is sensitive to mycolactone blockade at Sec61. Hence, a more complete understanding of the mechanisms regulating IL-1β function in skin tissue, including the transient intra-macrophage stage of M. ulcerans infection, is urgently needed to uncover the double-edged sword of IL-1β in BU pathogenesis, treatment and wound healing.
The Mycobacterium ulcerans exotoxin, mycolactone, is responsible for the immunosuppression and tissue necrosis that characterizes Buruli ulcer. Mycolactone inhibits SEC61-dependent co-translational translocation of proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum and the resultant cytosolic translation triggers degradation of mislocalized proteins by the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Inhibition of SEC61 by mycolactone also activates multiple EIF2S1/eIF2α kinases in the integrated stress response (ISR). Here we show mycolactone increased canonical markers of selective macroautophagy/autophagy LC3B-II, ubiquitin and SQSTM1/p62 in diverse disease-relevant primary cells and cell lines. Increased formation of puncta positive for the early autophagy markers WIPI2, RB1CC1/FIP200 and ATG16L1 indicates increased initiation of autophagy. The mycolactone response was SEC61A1-dependent and involved a pathway that required RB1CC1 but not ULK. Deletion of Sqstm1 reduced cell survival in the presence of mycolactone, suggesting this response protects against the increased cytosolic protein burden caused by the toxin. However, reconstitution of baseline SQSTM1 expression in cells lacking all autophagy receptor proteins could not rescue viability. Translational regulation by EIF2S1 in the ISR plays a key role in the autophagic response to mycolactone. Mycolactone-dependent induction of SQSTM1 was reduced in eif2ak3−/-/perk−/- cells while the p-EIF2S1 antagonist ISRIB reversed the upregulation of SQSTM1 and reduced RB1CC1, WIPI2 and LC3B puncta formation. Increased SQSTM1 staining could be seen in Buruli ulcer patient skin biopsy samples, reinforcing genetic data that suggests autophagy is relevant to disease pathology. Since selective autophagy and the ISR are both implicated in neurodegeneration, cancer and inflammation, the pathway uncovered here may have a broad relevance to human disease.
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