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J Infect Dis. 2012 Jul 1;206(1):91-8. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis310. Epub 2012 May 4.

B Lymphocytes provide an infection niche for intracellular bacterium Brucella abortus.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.



Brucella spp. are intracellular bacteria that establish lifelong infections whose mechanisms of chronicity are poorly understood. Notably, B cells facilitate the establishment of the high infection plateau that persists for months.


We evaluated the contribution of murine B cells toward providing infection niches for Brucella by using flow cytometry and microscopy and by determining live bacterial counts associated with B cells both in vivo and in vitro.


Herein we demonstrate that immunoglobulin M and complement-opsonized Brucella abortus infects and survives inside primary murine B cells protected from bactericidal effects of gentamicin. The entry was dependent on microfilaments for internalization and subsequently brucellae reside in a late endosomal/lysosomal compartment. Throughout the infection, 10% of colony-forming units from infected mice was associated with B cells, and these cells transferred disease to naive hosts. Furthermore, Brucella-positive cells were positive for transforming growth factor (TGF) β1, and about 10% of such cells were B cells, similar to rates found for other intracellular pathogens that induce their hosts cells to produce TGF-β1.


To conclude, infected B cells contribute to chronic bacterial infections by providing an intracellular niche that may exert an immunoregulatory role. Although professional phagocytic cells harbor intracellular bacteria including Brucella, infection of lymphocytes by bacteria has not been previously appreciated.

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