The Interactions of Clostridium Perfringens With Phagocytic Cells

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Virginia Tech


Clostridium perfringens is the most common cause of gas gangrene (clostridial myonecrosis), a disease that begins when ischemic tissues become contaminated with C. perfringens. C. perfringens quickly multiplies in ischemic tissues and spreads to healthy areas, leading to high levels of morbidity and mortality. As a species, the bacterium can synthesize thirteen different toxins. The alpha toxin (PLC) and perfringolysin O (PFO) are thought to be important virulence factors in gangrene. We wished to understand how C. perfringens is capable of avoiding killing by the host immune system, and determine if PLC and PFO play a role in this avoidance. We found C. perfringens was not killed by J774-33 cells or mouse peritoneal macrophages under aerobic or anaerobic conditions. Using electron microscopy, we showed that C. perfringens could escape the phagosome of J774-33 and mouse peritoneal macrophages. We believe the ability of C. perfringens to survive in the presence of macrophages is due to its ability to escape the phagosome. Using a variety of inhibitors of specific receptors, we identified those used by J774-33 cells to phagocytose C. perfringens. The scavenger receptor, mannose receptor(s), and complement receptor (CR3) were involved in the phagocytosis of C. perfringens. To determine if PFO or PLC were involved in the ability of C. perfringens to survive in the presence of macrophages, we constructed C. perfringens strains lacking these toxins. The ability of C. perfringens to survive in the presence of J774-33 cells is dependent on PFO, while survival in mouse peritoneal macrophages is dependent on PFO and PLC. The ability of C. perfringens to escape the phagosome of J774-33 cells and mouse peritoneal macrophages is mediated by either PFO or PLC. Using a mouse model, we found that PFO and PLC were necessary for C. perfringens to survive in vivo using infectious doses 1000 times lower than those required to initiate a gangrene infection. We propose that PFO and PLC play a critical role in the survival of C. perfringens during the early stages of gangrene infections, when phagocytic cells are present and bacterial numbers are low.



Clostridium perfringens, phagosome, alpha-toxin, LAMP-1, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, anaerobe, macrophage receptors, lysosome, theta-toxin, phagocytosis, macrophages