Mitochondrial Reactive Oxygen Species Enhance Alveolar Macrophage Activity against Aspergillus fumigatus but Are Dispensable for Host Protection

Neta Shlezinger*, Tobias M. Hohl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Aspergillus fumigatus is the most common cause of mold pneumonia worldwide, and a significant cause of infectious morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised individuals. The oxidative burst, which generates reactive oxidative species (ROS), plays a pivotal role in host defense against aspergillosis and induces regulated cell death in Aspergillus conidia, the infectious propagules. Beyond the well-established role of NADP (NADPH) oxidase in ROS generation by neutrophils and other innate effector cells, mitochondria represent a major ROS production site in many cell types, though it is unclear whether mitochondrial ROS (mtROS) contribute to antifungal activity in the lung. Following A. fumigatus infection, we observed that innate effector cells, including alveolar macrophages (AMs), monocyte-derived dendritic cells (Mo-DCS), and neutrophils, generated mtROS, primarily in fungus-infected cells. To examine the functional role of mtROS, specifically the H2O2 component, in pulmonary host defense against A. fumigatus, we infected transgenic mice that expressed a mitochondrion-targeted catalase. Using a reporter of fungal viability during interactions with leukocytes, mitochondrial H2O2 (mtH2O2) was essential for optimal AM, but not for neutrophil phagocytic and conidiacidal activity in the lung. Catalase-mediated mtH2O2 neutralization did not lead to invasive aspergillosis in otherwise immunocompetent mice and did not shorten survival in mice that lack NADPH oxidase function. Collectively, these studies indicate that mtROS-associated defects in AM antifungal activity can be functionally compensated by the action of NADPH oxidase and by nonoxidative effector mechanisms during murine A. fumigatus lung infection. IMPORTANCE Aspergillus fumigatus is a fungal pathogen that causes invasive disease in humans with defects in immune function. Airborne conidia, the infectious propagules, are ubiquitous and inhaled on a daily basis. In the respiratory tree, conidia are killed by the coordinated actions of phagocytes, including alveolar macrophages, neutrophils, and monocyte-derived dendritic cells. The oxidative burst represents a central killing mechanism and relies on the assembly of the NADPH oxidase complex on the phagosomal membrane. However, NADPH oxidase-deficient leukocytes have significant residual fungicidal activity in vivo, indicating the presence of alternative effector mechanisms. Here, we report that murine innate immune cells produce mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mtROS) in response to fungal interactions. Neutralizing the mtROS constituent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) via a catalase expressed in mitochondria of innate immune cells substantially diminished fungicidal properties of alveolar macrophages, but not of other innate immune cells. These data indicate that mtH2O2 represent a novel AM killing mechanism against Aspergillus conidia. mtH2O2 neutralization is compensated by other killing mechanisms in the lung, demonstrating functional redundancy at the level of host defense in the respiratory tree. These findings have important implications for the development of host-directed therapies against invasive aspergillosis in susceptible patient populations.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere00260-21
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Shlezinger and Hohl.


  • Fungus
  • Innate immunity
  • Lung


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