Development of a Novel In Vitro Co-Culture System for Studying Host Response to Native Bacterial Antigens

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We have developed a novel co-culture system in which murine splenocytes are cultured with live bacteria in the presence of a bacteriostatic antibiotic. Superantigens, like staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) are important factors in bacterial pathogenicity. Research has shown that superantigens affect numerous immune cell types, either directly or indirectly, yet their involvement in pathogenic mechanisms remains poorly defined. In these studies, we utilize the co-culture system to study how superantigen pretreatment affects interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production by splenocytes co-cultured with gram-positive bacteria. Streptococcus mutants, S. sanguis and Bacillus subtilis were tested for susceptibility to a panel of antibiotics. Spectinomycin was found to maintain a bacteriostatic state of approximately 105 bacteria ml−1 at optimal concentrations for each bacterial strain. Co-culturing splenocytes with bacteria did not affect splenocyte viability and cultured splenocytes responded to mitogenic stimulation as expected. Two days after SEB pretreatment, isolated splenocytes cultured with either Streptococcus species produced 10-15 times more IFN-γ than splenocytes from sham-injected controls; however, no differences in CD4+ or CD8+ T cell populations appeared in cultures with or without bacteria. Splenocytes isolated four days after SEB treatment did not produce significant amounts of IFN-γ in co-culture. Co-cultures containing live bacteria produced four times more IFN-γ than cultures containing heat-killed bacteria. Splenocytes depleted of natural killer (NK) cells prior to SEB treatment produced 25% less IFN-γ after 20 h co-culturing with S. mutans. T lymphocytes were identified to be the major producer of IFN-γ at this time point by intracellular cytokine staining. Apparently SEB exposure primes a response to live bacteria and the response is evident two days after initial exposure. The in vitro co-culture system allows us to observe host responses to bacteria in the context of the multicellular interdependent immune response. With this assay we can more closely ‘mimic’ in vivo events, particularly immune cell interactions in microfloral environments, to study how the pathogenic effects of superantigens alter this response.



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