Department of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA.
The uncultivable obligate intracellular bacterium Ehrlichia ewingii, previously known only as a canine pathogen, is the most recently recognized agent of human ehrlichiosis. E. ewingii is the only Ehrlichia species known to infect neutrophils. In the blood or in ex vivo culture, neutrophils generally have a short life span. In the present study, we investigated the effect of E. ewingii infection on spontaneous apoptosis of neutrophils. E. ewingii infection significantly delayed dog neutrophil apoptosis during ex vivo culture. The inhibitory effect on neutrophil apoptosis by E. ewingii was reversible on clearance of the organism. By using the fluorescent mitochondrial dyes Mitotracker Red 580 and JC-1, we found that E. ewingii infection stabilized mitochondrial integrity by maintaining mitochondrial membrane potential in neutrophils. These results suggest that E. ewingii delays spontaneous apoptosis of neutrophils via stabilization of host cell mitochondria.