Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Jason A. Carlyon


Scrub typhus, caused by the obligate intracellular bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi, afflicts one million people annually. Despite being a global health threat, little is known about O. tsutsugamushi pathogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that O. tsutsugamushi modulates the ER and ER-associated processes as mechanisms of nutritional virulence and immune evasion. To obtain amino acids to fuel replication, O. tsutsugamushi simultaneously induces ER stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR) while inhibiting ER-associated degradation (ERAD) during early infection time points. During exponential growth, the bacterium releases the ER bottleneck, resulting in generation of ERAD-derived amino acids that it parasitized for replication. The O. tsutsugamushi effector, Ank4, is linked to this process, as it impedes ERAD when ectopically expressed. O. tsutsugamushi expression of ank4 peaks during the ERAD inhibition window, but is absent when the pathway is restored. These data reveal a novel mechanism of nutritional virulence, whereby an obligate intracellular pathogen coordinates the modulation of multiple ER-associated processes. Like other intracellular pathogens, O. tsutsugamushi inhibits expression of MHC-I, but it does so in a novel manner by degrading the master regulator of MHC-I, NLRC5. This impedes production of the MHC-I components, human leukocyte antigen A and Beta-2 microglobulin. The NLRC5-reduction mechanism recapitulates across diverse cell types, but the degree and duration of inhibition is cell type-specific. NLRC5 modulation and MHC-I inhibition are linked to another O. tsutsugamushi Ank, Ank5. NLRC5 is a putative interacting partner of Ank5. Moreover, NLRC5 and MHC-I levels are reduced in cells ectopically expressing Ank5. To our knowledge, these are the first examples of a pathogen modulating NLRC5 to negatively regulate MHC-I expression and of a bacterial effector interacting with NLRC5. As we learn more about the bacterium’s ability to regulate its host cell, a unifying theme has emerged: modulation of the ER and ER-associated pathways. These projects reveal two novel mechanisms of O. tsutsugamushi pathogenesis, strategies to acquire the amino acids needed for replication and to decrease MHC-I antigen presentation by the host cell. These insights help in understanding how O. tsutsugamushi and potentially other related pathogens co-opt host cell processes to cause disease.


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Available for download on Saturday, March 04, 2023