Open Access Methodology article

A high-content imaging assay for the quantification of the Burkholderia pseudomallei induced multinucleated giant cell (MNGC) phenotype in murine macrophages

Gianluca Pegoraro123, Brett P Eaton1, Ricky L Ulrich1, Douglas J Lane1, Jenifer F Ojeda1, Sina Bavari1, David DeShazer1 and Rekha G Panchal1*

Author Affiliations

1 Molecular and Translational Sciences Division, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, 1425 Porter Street, Fort Detrick, Frederick, MD 21702-5011, USA

2 Perkin Elmer, Waltham, MA 02451, USA

3 Present Address: Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute/NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-98

Published: 22 April 2014



Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp), a Gram-negative, motile, facultative intracellular bacterium is the causative agent of melioidosis in humans and animals. The Bp genome encodes a repertoire of virulence factors, including the cluster 3 type III secretion system (T3SS-3), the cluster 1 type VI secretion system (T6SS-1), and the intracellular motility protein BimA, that enable the pathogen to invade both phagocytic and non-phagocytic cells. A unique hallmark of Bp infection both in vitro and in vivo is its ability to induce cell-to-cell fusion of macrophages to form multinucleated giant cells (MNGCs), which to date are semi-quantitatively reported following visual inspection.


In this study we report the development of an automated high-content image acquisition and analysis assay to quantitate the Bp induced MNGC phenotype. Validation of the assay was performed using T6SS-1 (∆hcp1) and T3SS-3 (∆bsaZ) mutants of Bp that have been previously reported to exhibit defects in their ability to induce MNGCs. Finally, screening of a focused small molecule library identified several Histone Deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors that inhibited Bp-induced MNGC formation of macrophages.


We have successfully developed an automated HCI assay to quantitate MNGCs induced by Bp in macrophages. This assay was then used to characterize the phenotype of the Bp mutants for their ability to induce MNGC formation and identify small molecules that interfere with this process. Successful application of chemical genetics and functional reverse genetics siRNA approaches in the MNGC assay will help gain a better understanding of the molecular targets and cellular mechanisms responsible for the MNGC phenotype induced by Bp, by other bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or by exogenously added cytokines.

Burkholderia pseudomallei; High Content imaging; phagocytosis; Multinucleated giant cells; Macrophages