Histones are proteins found in large numbers in most animal cells, where their primary job is to help DNA strands fold into compact and robust structures inside the nucleus. In vitro, histones are very effective at killing bacteria, and there is some evidence that histones secreted from cells provide protection against bacteria living outside cells. However, many types of bacteria are able to enter cells, where they can avoid the immune system and go on to replicate.
Researchers have discovered that histones can bind to lipid droplets – organelles in the cytosol that are primarily used to store energy – in various animal cells and tissues. Histones bound to lipid droplets can protect cells against bacteria without causing the harm normally associated with the presence of free histones.
A novel role for lipid droplets in the organismal antibacterial response. (2013) eLife doi: 10.7554/eLife.00003
We previously discovered histones bound to cytosolic lipid droplets (LDs); here we show that this forms a cellular antibacterial defense system. Sequestered on droplets under normal conditions, in the presence of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or lipoteichoic acid (LTA), histones are released from the droplets and kill bacteria efficiently in vitro. Droplet-bound histones also function in vivo: when injected into Drosophila embryos lacking droplet-bound histones, bacteria grow rapidly. In contrast, bacteria injected into embryos with droplet-bound histones die. Embryos with droplet-bound histones displayed more than a fourfold survival advantage when challenged with four different bacterial species. Our data suggests that this intracellular antibacterial defense system may function in adult flies, and also potentially in mice.