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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2004 Jan;17(1):14-56.

Pathogenicity islands in bacterial pathogenesis.

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  • 1Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie und Hygiene, Medizinische Fakultät Carl Gustav Carus, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Germany.

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  • Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan;19(1):257.


In this review, we focus on a group of mobile genetic elements designated pathogenicity islands (PAI). These elements play a pivotal role in the virulence of bacterial pathogens of humans and are also essential for virulence in pathogens of animals and plants. Characteristic molecular features of PAI of important human pathogens and their role in pathogenesis are described. The availability of a large number of genome sequences of pathogenic bacteria and their benign relatives currently offers a unique opportunity for the identification of novel pathogen-specific genomic islands. However, this knowledge has to be complemented by improved model systems for the analysis of virulence functions of bacterial pathogens. PAI apparently have been acquired during the speciation of pathogens from their nonpathogenic or environmental ancestors. The acquisition of PAI not only is an ancient evolutionary event that led to the appearance of bacterial pathogens on a timescale of millions of years but also may represent a mechanism that contributes to the appearance of new pathogens within a human life span. The acquisition of knowledge about PAI, their structure, their mobility, and the pathogenicity factors they encode not only is helpful in gaining a better understanding of bacterial evolution and interactions of pathogens with eukaryotic host cells but also may have important practical implications such as providing delivery systems for vaccination, tools for cell biology, and tools for the development of new strategies for therapy of bacterial infections.

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