Open Access Research article

Microarray analysis of Shigella flexneri-infected epithelial cells identifies host factors important for apoptosis inhibition

Christina S Faherty13, D Scott Merrell1, Cristina Semino-Mora2, Andre Dubois2, Aishwarya V Ramaswamy1 and Anthony T Maurelli1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

2 Laboratory of Gastrointestinal and Liver Studies, Department of Medicine, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

3 Current address: Center for Vaccine Development, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201-1509 USA

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:272  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-272

Published: 29 April 2010



Shigella flexneri inhibits apoptosis in infected epithelial cells. In order to understand the pro-survival effects induced by the bacteria, we utilized apoptosis-specific microarrays to analyze the changes in eukaryotic gene expression in both infected and uninfected cells in the presence and absence of staurosporine, a chemical inducer of the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis. The goal of this research was to identify host factors that contribute to apoptosis inhibition in infected cells.


The microarray analysis revealed distinct expression profiles in uninfected and infected cells, and these changes were altered in the presence of staurosporine. These profiles allowed us to make comparisons between the treatment groups. Compared to uninfected cells, Shigella-infected epithelial cells, both in the presence and absence of staurosporine, showed significant induced expression of JUN, several members of the inhibitor of apoptosis gene family, nuclear factor κB and related genes, genes involving tumor protein 53 and the retinoblastoma protein, and surprisingly, genes important for the inhibition of the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis. We confirmed the microarray results for a selection of genes using in situ hybridization analysis.


Infection of epithelial cells with S. flexneri induces a pro-survival state in the cell that results in apoptosis inhibition in the presence and absence of staurosporine. The bacteria may target these host factors directly while some induced genes may represent downstream effects due to the presence of the bacteria. Our results indicate that the bacteria block apoptosis at multiple checkpoints along both pathways so that even if a cell fails to prevent apoptosis at an early step, Shigella will block apoptosis at the level of caspase-3. Apoptosis inhibition is most likely vital to the survival of the bacteria in vivo. Future characterization of these host factors is required to fully understand how S. flexneri inhibits apoptosis in epithelial cells.