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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2004 Apr;17(2):323-47.

Invasion of the central nervous system by intracellular bacteria.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA.


Infection of the central nervous system (CNS) is a severe and frequently fatal event during the course of many diseases caused by microbes with predominantly intracellular life cycles. Examples of these include the facultative intracellular bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Brucella and Salmonella spp. and obligate intracellular microbes of the Rickettsiaceae family and Tropheryma whipplei. Unfortunately, the mechanisms used by intracellular bacterial pathogens to enter the CNS are less well known than those used by bacterial pathogens with an extracellular life cycle. The goal of this review is to elaborate on the means by which intracellular bacterial pathogens establish infection within the CNS. This review encompasses the clinical and pathological findings that pertain to the CNS infection in humans and includes experimental data from animal models that illuminate how these microbes enter the CNS. Recent experimental data showing that L. monocytogenes can invade the CNS by more than one mechanism make it a useful model for discussing the various routes for neuroinvasion used by intracellular bacterial pathogens.

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