Interferon Gamma Activated Macrophages Kill Mycobacteria by Nitric Oxide Induced Apoptosis

<div><p><em>Mycobacterium tuberculosis</em> is an intracellular pathogen of macrophages and escapes the macrophages' bactericidal effectors by interfering with phagosome-lysosome fusion. IFN-γ activation renders the macrophages capable of killing intracellular mycobacteria by overcoming the phagosome maturation block, nutrient deprivation and exposure to microbicidal effectors including nitric oxide (NO). While the importance about NO for the control of mycobacterial infection in murine macrophages is well documented, the underlying mechanism has not been revealed yet. In this study we show that IFN-γ induced apoptosis in mycobacteria-infected macrophages, which was strictly dependent on NO. Subsequently, NO-mediated apoptosis resulted in the killing of intracellular mycobacteria independent of autophagy. In fact, killing of mycobacteria was susceptible to the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine (3-MA). However, 3-MA also suppressed NO production, which is an important off-target effect to be considered in autophagy studies using 3-MA. Inhibition of caspase 3/7 activation, as well as NO production, abolished apoptosis and elimination of mycobacteria by IFN-γ activated macrophages. In line with the finding that drug-induced apoptosis kills intracellular mycobacteria in the absence of NO, we identified NO-mediated apoptosis as a new defense mechanism of activated macrophages against <em>M. tuberculosis</em>.</p> </div>