Microscopy-based assays for high-throughput screening of host factors involved in Brucella infection of Hela cells
Brucella species are facultative intracellular pathogens that infect animals as their natural hosts. Transmission to humans is most commonly caused by direct contact with infected animals or by ingestion of contaminated food and can lead to severe chronic infections. Brucella can invade professional and non-professional phagocytic cells and replicates within endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-derived vacuoles. The host factors required for Brucella entry into host cells, avoidance of lysosomal degradation, and replication in the ER-like compartment remain largely unknown. Here we describe two assays to identify host factors involved in Brucella entry and replication in HeLa cells. The protocols describe the use of RNA interference, while alternative screening methods could be applied. The assays are based on the detection of fluorescently labeled bacteria in fluorescently labeled host cells using automated wide-field microscopy. The fluorescent images are analyzed using a standardized image analysis pipeline in CellProfiler which allows single cell-based infection scoring. In the endpoint assay, intracellular replication is measured two days after infection. This allows bacteria to traffic to their replicative niche where proliferation is initiated around 12 hr after bacterial entry. Brucella which have successfully established an intracellular niche will thus have strongly proliferated inside host cells. Since intracellular bacteria will greatly outnumber individual extracellular or intracellular non-replicative bacteria, a strain constitutively expressing GFP can be used. The strong GFP signal is then used to identify infected cells. In contrast, for the entry assay it is essential to differentiate between intracellular and extracellular bacteria. Here, a strain encoding for a tetracycline-inducible GFP is used. Induction of GFP with simultaneous inactivation of extracellular bacteria by gentamicin enables the differentiation between intracellular and extracellular bacteria based on the GFP signal, with only intracellular bacteria being able to express GFP. This allows the robust detection of single intracellular bacteria before intracellular proliferation is initiated.