Microvascular thrombi underlie many of the clinical manifestations of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), a disease characterized by Rickettsia rickettsii infection of vascular endothelial cells. Studies were designed to determine whether R rickettsii-infection of cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells results in tissue factor (TF) induction, a process that could directly activate coagulation in infected vessels. Whereas uninfected endothelial cell cultures showed essentially undetectable TF mRNA and activity, both TF mRNA and activity were present after R rickettsii infection. TF mRNA levels were transient, peaking at 4 hours after the initiation of infection, whereas the peak of TF activity occurred at 8 hours. Induction of the TF response requires the intracellular presence of R rickettsii organisms, because uninfected rickettsia were ineffective and the response was blocked by inhibiting rickettsial entry using cytochalasin B. TF induction was not mediated by endothelial cell release of soluble factor, because no response was induced using culture medium conditioned by R rickettsii-infected cells. Furthermore, preadsorption of suspensions of R rickettsii with polymyxin B to remove contaminating lipopolysaccharide did not eliminate the TF response. Induction of TF in vital endothelial cells during R rickettsii infection could be the trigger for vascular thrombus formation of RMSF.

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