Infection by the obligate human pathogens Neisseria meningitidis (MC) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) reduces the expression of host epithelial cell transferrin receptor 1 (TfR-1) (Bonnah et al., 2000, Cellular Microbiology 2: 207-218). In addition, the rate and pattern of TfR-1 cycling is altered, leading to diminished uptake of Tf-iron by infected host cells. As Tf-iron is important for maintaining iron homeostasis in the eukaryotic cell, these findings raised the possibility that Neisseria infection might affect further pathways of epithelial cell iron metabolism. We used a specialized cDNA microarray platform, the 'IronChip', to investigate the expression of genes involved in iron transport, storage and regulation. We show that mRNA expression of several host genes involved in iron homeostasis is altered. Surprisingly, the general mRNA expression profile of infected cells closely resembled that of uninfected cells grown in an iron-limited environment. An important exception to this profile is TfR-1, the mRNA level of which is strongly reduced. Low TfR-1 expression may be explained in part by decreased activity of the iron-regulatory proteins (IRPs) in MC-infected cells, which may result in the destabilization of TfR-1 mRNA. Intriguingly, low IRP activity contrasts with the decrease in H-ferritin protein levels in infected cells. This finding suggests that low IRP activity may be responsible in part for the decrease in TfR-1 mRNA levels. A discussion of these novel findings in relation to MC infection and virulence is provided.
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