Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barbara R. Baumstark - Chair

Second Advisor

Julia Hilliard

Third Advisor

Zehava Eichenbaum


Human pathogens survive anti-pathogen host immune assault by either circumventing or evading the host immune response. Bartonella henselae, an intracellular pathogen previously shown to disrupt intrinsic apoptotic messengers to enhance its survival, exploits multiple facets of the cellular apoptotic mechanisms. Cellular pathways affected by apoptotic processes were assessed using real-time reverse-transcriptase-polymerase-chain-reaction (rRT-PCR) to measure the effect of B. henselae on cell regulator gene expression (TRADD, FADD, caspase-8 and caspase-3), caspase activity, DNA cell cycle analysis, cell regulator protein expression and overall cell viability and morphology. The presence of B. henselae suppresses overall gene expression for TRADD and FADD and it dramatically suppresses ceramide-induced TRADD and FADD gene expression. The presence of B. henselae has a noticeable effect on ceramide-induced caspase-8 and caspase-3 gene expression. Only caspase-3 enzymatic activity was ceramide-induced and likewise supressed by the presence of B. henselae, whereas caspase-6 and caspase-8 were unaffected and equivalent to controls. The presence of B. henselae inhibits ceramide-induced DNA fragmentation, maintains overall cell morphology and enhances host cell viability. Lastly, B. henselae inhibits the time-dependant ceramide-induction of TRADD protein and suppresses ubiquitous FADD protein expression. We demonstrated that B. henselae inhibits apoptotic induction in a systematic manner following exogenous apoptotic induction. B. henselae protection of microvascular endothelial cells from apoptosis induction begins at the modulation of cell surface receptor-dependent signaling. B. henselae minimizes, but does not completely abrogate, the cytotoxic effect of the apoptogenic shingolipid ceramide on human microvascular endothelial cells (CDC.EU.HMEC-1). Broadening our understanding of the sequence of cell regulator suppression events by intracellular pathogens will provide insight into disease manifestation. Further, understanding how infected cells initiate and conclude apoptosis will open new avenues into the study of disease treatment.

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Biology Commons