Looking Inside Non-Destructively: Label-Free, Raman-Based Visualization of Intracellular Coxiella burnetii
The life cycle of intracellular pathogens is often complex and can include different morphoforms. Treatment of intracellular infections and unperturbed studying of the pathogen inside the host cell are frequently challenging. Here, we present a Raman-based, label-free, non-invasive, and non-destructive method to localize, visualize, and even quantify intracellular bacteria in 3D within intact host cells in a Coxiella burnetii infection model. C. burnetii is a zoonotic obligate intracellular pathogen that causes infections in ruminant livestock and humans with an acute disease known as Q fever. Using statistical data analysis, no isolation is necessary to gain detailed information on the intracellular pathogen's metabolic state. High-quality false color image stacks with diffraction-limited spatial resolution enable a 3D spatially resolved single host cell analysis that shows excellent agreement with results from transmission electron microscopy. Quantitative analysis at different time points post infection allows to follow the infection cycle with the transition from the large cell variant (LCV) to the small cell variant (SCV) at around day 6 and a gradual change in the lipid composition during vacuole maturation. Spectral characteristics of intracellular LCV and SCV reveal a higher lipid content of the metabolically active LCV.