Autophagy is a main defense strategy by which infected host cells can virtually induce the killing of parasite, including Toxoplasma gondii. However, the regulatory mechanisms of autophagy in T. gondii-infected nonhematopoietic cells are still unknown. Emerging evidence indicates that CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein β (C/EBP β) is associated with the regulation of autophagy. Herein, we hypothesized that C/EBP β plays roles in inducing autophagy in nonhematopoietic cells. Expression of C/EBP β was aberrantly regulated in endothelial cells and retinal pigment epithelial cells challenged by T. gondii. Inhibition of C/EBP β reduced the killing of T. gondii in nonhematopoietic cells, whereas C/EBP β overexpression resulted in the enhancement of killing of T. gondii as well as the increase in autophagy in infected cells. Furthermore, the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation was found to be reduced by C/EBP β overexpression, but increased by C/EBP β inhibition. The increase in T. gondii killing induced by C/EBP β overexpression was blocked by the mTOR activator phosphatidic acid and was increased by the inhibitor AZD8055. In conclusion, we demonstrate that C/EBP β expression is increased in nonhematopoietic cells infected by T. gondii, resulting in the activation of autophagy in host cells by inhibiting mTOR pathway.
C/EBP β; T. gondii; autophagy; killing; mTOR; nonhematopoietic cells