It is not yet known what properties distinguish macrophages which can kill facultative intracellular bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes, from those which cannot. Listeria is an organism which requires iron for growth, yet macrophage listericidal mechanisms are also likely to be iron dependent. We show here that resident peritoneal macrophages and thioglycollate-elicited macrophages cannot kill listeria, but proteose peptone-elicited and FCS-elicited macrophages can. All these cell populations phagocytose listeria. Transferrin receptor expression is low on resident cells, intermediate on peptone- and FCS-elicited cells, and high on thioglycollate-elicited cells. Transferrin transports iron into cells via the transferrin receptor: thus, iron content of resident cells is low, of peptone- and FCS-elicited cells is intermediate, and of thioglycollate-elicited cells is high. Moreover, antibody to transferrin, which prevents it binding its receptor, inhibits listericidal macrophages from killing this bacterium. Finally, nonlistericidal cells with high transferrin receptor expression and high intracellular iron become listericidal if they are incubated with apotransferrin, an iron-free ligand which prevents iron uptake by cells. These data suggest that macrophages must have enough available intracellular iron to support listericidal mechanisms, but too much iron favors growth of the bacterium, which no longer can be killed by the macrophage.

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