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Infect Immun. 1998 Sep;66(9):4461-8.

Entry of Listeria monocytogenes into neurons occurs by cell-to-cell spread: an in vitro study.

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  • 1Unité des Intéractions Bactéries-Cellules, Institut Pasteur, 75015 Paris, France.


Listeria monocytogenes is an intracellular pathogen that causes severe central nervous system infection in humans and animals. The ability of this bacterium to penetrate nerve cells was investigated by using rat spinal cell cultures. Entry into distinct cell types, i. e., glial cells and neurons, was monitored by a differential immunofluorescence technique with antibodies against cell type-specific markers and the bacterial pathogen. L. monocytogenes was detected predominantly within macrophages constituting the microglia. Astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, the major components of macroglia, were infected to a lesser extent. Surprisingly, Listeria innocua, a noninvasive and nonpathogenic species, also has the capacity to enter into these three types of glial cells. Entry into neurons was a very rare event. In contrast, we found that L. monocytogenes could efficiently invade neurons when these latter cells were cocultivated with Listeria-infected mouse macrophages. In this case, infection of neurons occurs by cell-to-cell spread via an actA-dependent mechanism. These data support the notion that infected phagocytes can be vectors by which L. monocytogenes gains access to privileged niches such as the central nervous system.

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