The virulence protein YopM of the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis has different dominant effects in liver and spleen. Previous studies focused on spleen, where YopM inhibits accumulation of inflammatory dendritic cells. In the present study we focused on liver, where PMN function may be directly undermined by YopM without changes in inflammatory cell numbers in the initial days of infection, and foci of inflammation are easily identified. Mice were infected with parent and ΔyopM-1 Y. pestis KIM5, and effects of YopM were assessed by immunohistochemistry and determinations of bacterial viable numbers in organs. The bacteria were found associated with myeloid cells in foci of inflammation and in liver sinusoids. A new in-vivo phenotype of YopM was revealed: death of inflammatory cells, evidenced by TUNEL staining beginning at d 1 of infection. Based on distributions of Ly6G+, F4/80+, and iNOS+ cells within foci, the cells that were killed could have included both PMNs and macrophages. By 2 d post-infection, YopM had no effect on distribution of these cells, but by 3 d cellular decomposition had outstripped acute inflammation in foci due to parent Y. pestis, while foci due to the Δ-1yopM strain still contained many inflammatory cells. The destruction depended on the presence of both PMNs in the mice and YopM in the bacteria. In mice that lacked the apoptosis mediator caspase-3 the infection dynamics were novel: the parent Y. pestis was limited in growth comparably to the ΔyopM-1 strain in liver, and in spleen a partial growth limitation for parent Y. pestis was seen. This result identified caspase-3 as a co-factor or effector in YopM's action and supports the hypothesis that in liver YopM's main pathogenic effect is mediated by caspase-3 to cause apoptosis of PMNs.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in PLOS One, vol. 9, o. 11, article e110956, p. 1-12.

© 2014 Ye et al.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This work was supported by grant R01 AI67869 from the United States Public Health Service (NIAID; www.niaid.nih.gov). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Figure_S1.tif (7618 kB)
Figure S1: Similar amounts of TUNEL staining were present in spleens of mice infected with parent and ΔyopM-1 Y. pestis

Table_S1.docx (17 kB)
Table S1: Distribution of Ly6G+ and F4/80+ Cells in foci after infection with thermally preinduced Y. pestis.