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C-terminal region of Rv1039c (PPE15) protein of Mycobacterium tuberculosis targets host mitochondria to induce macrophage apoptosis.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) genome possesses a unique family called Proline-Glutamate/Proline-Proline-Glutamate (PE/PPE) gene family, exclusive to pathogenic mycobacterium. Some of these proteins are known to play role in virulence and immune response modulation, but many are still uncharacterized. This study investigated the role of C-terminal region of Rv1039c (PPE15) in inducing mitochondrial perturbations and macrophage apoptosis. Our in-silico studies revealed the disordered, coiled, and hydrophobic C-terminal region in Rv1039c has similarity with C-terminal of mitochondria-targeting pro-apoptotic host proteins. Wild type Rv1039c and C-terminal deleted Rv1039c (Rv1039c-/-Cterm) recombinant proteins were purified and their M. smegmatis knock-in strains were constructed which were used for in-vitro experiments. Confocal microscopy showed localization of Rv1039c to mitochondria of PMA-differentiated THP1 macrophages; and reduced mitochondrial membrane depolarization and production of mitochondrial superoxides were observed in response to Rv1039c-/-Cterm in comparison to full-length Rv1039c. The C-terminal region of Rv1039c was found to activate caspases 3, 7 and 9 along with upregulated expression of pro-apoptotic genes like Bax and Bim. Rv1039c-/-Cterm also reduced the Cytochrome-C release from the mitochondria and the expression of AnnexinV/PI positive and TUNEL positive cells as compared to Rv1039c. Additionally, Rv1039c was observed to upregulate the TLR4-NF-κB-TNF-α signalling whereas the same was downregulated in response to Rv1039c-/-Cterm. These findings suggested that the C-terminal region of Rv1039c is a molecular mimic of pro-apoptotic host proteins which induce mitochondria-dependent macrophage apoptosis and evoke host immune response. These observations enhance our understanding about the role of PE/PPE proteins at host-pathogen interface.

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