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Clin Infect Dis. 2001 Aug 1;33(3):354-63. Epub 2001 Jun 25.

Pathogenesis of maternal-fetal syphilis revisited.

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  • 1Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research, New York State Department of Health, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12201-0509, USA.


Although congenital syphilis has been recognized for several centuries and an efficient treatment with penicillin became available more than a half-century ago, the disease is still with us. Inability to culture in vitro the causative agent, Treponema pallidum, and the lack of an adequate animal model have prevented exploration of the various immunopathological events affecting the natural course of congenital infection. The purpose of this review is to analyze the disease in the context of recent knowledge acquired from human and experimental animals, particularly from the guinea pig model of congenital and neonatal syphilis, and to describe how the infection interacts with the maternal-fetal unit and how it is further modulated by the conceptus' ontogenic development. We also attempt to elucidate several old immunologic concepts and misconceptions that have remained unchallenged for too long.

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