Campylobacter fetus is a Gram-negative bacterial pathogen of humans and ungulates and is normally transmitted via ingestion of contaminated food or water with infection resulting in mild to severe enteritis. However, despite clinical evidence that C. fetus infection often involves transient bacteremic states from which systemic infection may develop and the frequent isolation of C. fetus from extra-intestinal sites, this organism displays very poor invasiveness in in vitro models of infection. In this study, immunofluorescence microscopy and gentamicin protection assays were used to investigate the ability of six clinical isolates and one reference strain of C. fetus to adhere to and invade the human intestinal epithelial cell line, INT 407. During an initial 4-h infection period, all C. fetus strains were detected intracellularly using both techniques, though adherence and internalization levels were very low when determined from gentamicin protection assays. Microscopy results indicated that during a 4-h infection period, four of the five clinical strains tested were adherent to 41.3–87.3% of INT 407 cells observed and that 25.2–34.6% of INT 407 cells contained intracellular C. fetus. The C. fetus reference strain displayed the lowest levels of adherence and internalization. A modified infection assay revealed thatC. fetus adherence did not necessarily culminate in internalization. Despite the large percentage of INT 407 cells with adherent bacteria, the percentage of INT 407 cells with intracellular bacteria remained unchanged when incubation was extended from 4 h to 20 h. However, microscopy of INT 407 cells 24 h postinfection (p.i.) revealed that infected host cells contained clusters of densely packed C. fetus cells. Gentamicin protection assays revealed that intracellular C. fetus cells were not only viable 24 h p.i. but also that C. fetus had increased in number approximately three- to fourfold between 4 and 24 h p.i., indicative of intracellular replication. Investigation of the role of the host cell cytoskeleton revealed that pretreatment of host cells with cytochalasin D, colchicine, vinblastine, taxol, or dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) did not impact upon C. fetus adherence or internalization of INT 407 cells. Microscopy indicated neither rearrangement nor colocalization of either microtubules or microfilaments in INT 407 cells in response to C. fetus adherence or internalization. Together, these data indicate that clinical isolates of C. fetus are capable of adhering, entering, and surviving within the nonphagocytic epithelial cell line, INT 407.Key words: Campylobacter fetus, INT 407, immunofluorescence microscopy, S layer.
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