Teri N. Hreha, Christina A. Collins, Elisabeth B. Cole, Rachel J. Jin, David A. Hunstad

Androgen exposure impairs neutrophil maturation and function within the infected kidney

  • Virology
  • Microbiology

ABSTRACT Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in men are uncommon yet carry an increased risk for severe pyelonephritis and other complications. In models of Escherichia coli UTI, C3H/HeN mice develop high-titer pyelonephritis (most with renal abscesses) in a testosterone-dependent manner, but the mechanisms underlying this phenotype are unknown. Here, using female mouse models, we show that androgen exposure impairs neutrophil maturation in the upper and lower urinary tract, compounded by a reduction of neutrophil function within the infected kidney, enabling persistent high-titer infection and promoting abscess formation. Following intravesical inoculation with uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), kidneys of androgen-exposed C3H mice showed delayed local pro-inflammatory cytokine responses while robustly recruiting neutrophils. These were enriched for an end-organ-specific population of aged but immature neutrophils (CD49d+, CD101–). Compared to their mature counterparts, these aged immature kidney neutrophils exhibited reduced function in vitro , including impaired degranulation and diminished phagocytic activity, while splenic, bone marrow, and bladder neutrophils did not display these alterations. Furthermore, aged immature neutrophils manifested little phagocytic activity within intratubular UPEC communities in vivo . Experiments with B6 conditional androgen receptor (AR)-deficient mice indicated rescue of the maturation defect when AR was deleted in myeloid cells. We conclude that the recognized enhancement of UTI severity by androgens is attributable, at least in part, to local impairment of neutrophil maturation in the urinary tract (largely via cell-intrinsic AR signaling) and a kidney-specific reduction in neutrophil antimicrobial capacity. IMPORTANCE Although urinary tract infections (UTIs) predominantly occur in women, male UTIs carry an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Pyelonephritis in androgen-exposed mice features robust neutrophil recruitment and abscess formation, while bacterial load remains consistently high. Here, we demonstrate that during UTI, neutrophils infiltrating the urinary tract of androgen-exposed mice exhibit reduced maturation, and those that have infiltrated the kidney have reduced phagocytic and degranulation functions, limiting their ability to effectively control infection. This work helps to elucidate mechanisms by which androgens enhance UTI susceptibility and severity, illuminating why male patients may be predisposed to severe outcomes of pyelonephritis.

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