GABAergic Signaling Is Linked to a Hypermigratory Phenotype in Dendritic Cells Infected by Toxoplasma gondii
During acute infection in human and animal hosts, the obligate intracellular protozoan Toxoplasma gondii infects a variety of cell types, including leukocytes. Poised to respond to invading pathogens, dendritic cells (DC) may also be exploited by T. gondii for spread in the infected host. Here, we report that human and mouse myeloid DC possess functional γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and the machinery for GABA biosynthesis and secretion. Shortly after T. gondii infection (genotypes I, II and III), DC responded with enhanced GABA secretion in vitro. We demonstrate that GABA activates GABAA receptor-mediated currents in T. gondii-infected DC, which exhibit a hypermigratory phenotype. Inhibition of GABA synthesis, transportation or GABAA receptor blockade in T. gondii-infected DC resulted in impaired transmigration capacity, motility and chemotactic response to CCL19 in vitro. Moreover, exogenous GABA or supernatant from infected DC restored the migration of infected DC in vitro. In a mouse model of toxoplasmosis, adoptive transfer of infected DC pre-treated with GABAergic inhibitors reduced parasite dissemination and parasite loads in target organs, e.g. the central nervous system. Altogether, we provide evidence that GABAergic signaling modulates the migratory properties of DC and that T. gondii likely makes use of this pathway for dissemination. The findings unveil that GABA, the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, has activation functions in the immune system that may be hijacked by intracellular pathogens. Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite and an important food- and water-borne human and veterinary pathogen. Toxoplasmosis is normally self-limiting but severe manifestations occur upon congenital transmission to the developing fetus or during infection in immune-compromised individuals. Toxoplasma invades a variety of cell types and mounting evidence shows that certain white blood cells, e.g. dendritic cells, can shuttle parasites in the infected host by a Trojan horse type of mechanism. Dendritic cells are considered the gatekeepers of the immune system but can, paradoxically, also mediate dissemination of the parasite. Previous work has shown that Toxoplasma induces a hypermigratory state in dendritic cells when they become infected. Here, we show that, shortly after infection by the parasite, dendritic cells start secreting γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), also known as the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. We show that dendritic cells express GABA receptors, as well as the machinery to synthesize and transport GABA. When GABA synthesis, transport or receptor function was inhibited, the migration of infected dendritic cells was impaired. In a mouse model of toxoplasmosis, treatment of infected dendritic cells with GABA inhibitors resulted in reduced propagation of the parasite. This study establishes that GABAergic signaling modulates the migratory properties of dendritic cells and that the intracellular pathogen Toxoplasma gondii sequesters the GABAergic signaling of dendritic cells to assure propagation.