Infection of zebrafish embryos with live fluorescent Streptococcus pneumoniae as a real-time pneumococcal meningitis model

K.K. Jim, J. Engelen-Lee, A.M. van der Sar, W. Bitter, M.C. Brouwer, A. van der Ende, J.W. Veening, D. van de Beek, C.M.J.E. Vandenbroucke-Grauls

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Streptococcus pneumoniae is one of the most important causes of bacterial meningitis, an infection where unfavourable outcome is driven by bacterial and host-derived toxins. In this study, we developed and characterized a pneumococcal meningitis model in zebrafish embryos that allows for real-time investigation of early host-microbe interaction. Methods: Zebrafish embryos were infected in the caudal vein or hindbrain ventricle with green fluorescent wild-type S. pneumoniae D39 or a pneumolysin-deficient mutant. The kdrl:mCherry transgenic zebrafish line was used to visualize the blood vessels, whereas phagocytic cells were visualized by staining with far red anti-L-plastin or in mpx:GFP/mpeg1:mCherry zebrafish, that have green fluorescent neutrophils and red fluorescent macrophages. Imaging was performed by fluorescence confocal and time-lapse microscopy. Results: After infection by caudal vein, we saw focal clogging of the pneumococci in the blood vessels and migration of bacteria through the blood-brain barrier into the subarachnoid space and brain tissue. Infection with pneumolysin-deficient S. pneumoniae in the hindbrain ventricle showed attenuated growth and migration through the brain as compared to the wild-type strain. Time-lapse and confocal imaging revealed that the initial innate immune response to S. pneumoniae in the subarachnoid space mainly consisted of neutrophils and that pneumolysin-mediated cytolytic activity caused a marked reduction of phagocytes. Conclusions: This new meningitis model permits detailed analysis and visualization of host-microbe interaction in pneumococcal meningitis in real time and is a very promising tool to further our insights in the pathogenesis of pneumococcal meningitis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number188
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2016


  • Host-microbe interaction
  • Live cell imaging
  • Pneumococcal meningitis
  • Pneumolysin
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Zebrafish


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