Listeria monocytogenes is a food-borne pathogen which causes mild to life threatening disease in humans. Ingestion of contaminated food delivers the pathogen to the gastrointestinal tract, where it crosses the epithelial barrier and spreads to internal organs. Type I interferons (IFN-I) are produced during infection and decrease host resistance after systemic delivery of L. monocytogenes. Here we show that mice benefit from IFN-I production following infection with L. monocytogenes via the gastrointestinal route. Intragastric infection lead to increased lethality of IFN-I receptor chain 1-deficient (Ifnar1-/-) animals and to higher bacterial numbers in liver and spleen. Compared to infection from the peritoneum, bacteria infecting via the intestinal tract localized more often to periportal and pericentral regions of the liver and less frequently to the margins of liver lobes. Vigorous replication of intestine-borne L. monocytogenes in the livers of Ifnar1-/- mice 48 h post infection was accompanied by the formation of large inflammatory infiltrates in this organ and massive death of surrounding hepatocytes. This was not observed in Ifnar1-/- mice after intraperitoneal infection. The inflammatory response to infection is shaped by alterations in splenic cytokine production, particularly IFNγ, which differs after intragastric versus intraperitoneal infection. Taken together, our data suggest that the adverse or beneficial role of a cytokine may vary with the route of infection and that IFN-I are not harmful when infection with L. monocytogenes occurs via the natural route.
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