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Summary

To determine the contribution of the previously identified internalins, InlA, InlB, InlC, InlE, InlG, and InlH, to internalization of Listeria monocytogenes by non-professional phagocytic mammalian cells, we constructed mutants with various combinations of deletions in the respective inl genes. Internalization of these mutants into the epithelial-like Caco-2 and the microvascular endothelial HBMEC cell lines were studied. Deletion of the inlGHE gene cluster, or of the single genes, led to a two to fourfold increased internalization by HBMEC and other non-phagocytic mammalian cells. Invasion into HBMEC was totally blocked in the absence of InlB, and InlB-dependent internalization did not require the presence of any of the other internalins. Internalization by Caco-2 cells was reduced to a level of about 1% in the absence of InlA and InlB, and was most efficient in the presence of InlA, InlB and InlC and in the absence of InlG, InlH and InlE. InlB and InlA, in each case in the absence of the other internalins, led (compared with the wild-type strain) to reduced internalization of about 20% and less than 10% respectively. InlA-dependent internalization (in the absence of InlB) required the additional function of InlC and InlGHE. The deletion of inlGHE enhanced the expression of InlA and InlB. The increased amount of InlA led to an increase in early association of L. monocytogenes with Caco-2 cells without enhancing its uptake in the absence of the other internalins, whereas the larger amount of InlB did not enhance early association of L. monocytogenes with HBMEC but led to an increase in internalization of L. monocytogenes. The results suggest that InlB is able to induce phagocytosis in HBMEC and (at a lower efficiency) in Caco-2 cells by itself, but InlA needs the supportive functions of the other internalins to trigger phagocytosis. None of these internalins seems to be required for cell-to-cell spread by L. monocytogenes, as shown by microinjection of Caco-2 cells with appropriate inl mutants.