Mycobacterium leprae-induced Insulin-like Growth Factor I attenuates antimicrobial mechanisms, promoting bacterial survival in macrophages.
Mycobacterium leprae (ML), the etiologic agent of leprosy, can subvert macrophage antimicrobial activity by mechanisms that remain only partially understood. In the present study, the participation of hormone insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in this phenomenum was investigated. Macrophages from the dermal lesions of the disseminated multibacillary lepromatous form (LL) of leprosy expressed higher levels of IGF-I than those from the self-limited paucibacillary tuberculoid form (BT). Higher levels of IGF-I secretion by ML-infected macrophages were confirmed in ex vivo and in vitro studies. Of note, the dampening of IGF-I signaling reverted the capacity of ML-infected human and murine macrophages to produce antimicrobial molecules and promoted bacterial killing. Moreover, IGF-I was shown to inhibit the JAK/STAT1-dependent signaling pathways triggered by both mycobacteria and IFN-γ most probably through its capacity to induce the suppressor of cytokine signaling-3 (SOCS3). Finally, these in vitro findings were corroborated by in vivo observations in which higher SOCS3 expression and lower phosphorylation of STAT1 levels were found in LL versus BT dermal lesions. Altogether, our data strongly suggest that IGF-I contributes to the maintenance of a functional program in infected macrophages that suits ML persistence in the host, reinforcing a key role for IGF-I in leprosy pathogenesis.