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J Exp Med. 2001 May 7;193(9):1077-86.

Invasion and persistent intracellular colonization of erythrocytes. A unique parasitic strategy of the emerging pathogen Bartonella.

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Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Department of Molecular Microbiology, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


The expanding genus Bartonella includes zoonotic and human-specific pathogens that can cause a wide range of clinical manifestations. A productive infection allowing bacterial transmission by blood-sucking arthropods is marked by an intraerythrocytic bacteremia that occurs exclusively in specific human or animal reservoir hosts. Incidental human infection by animal-adapted bartonellae can cause disease without evidence for erythrocyte parasitism. A better understanding of the intraerythrocytic lifestyle of bartonellae may permit the design of strategies to control the reservoir and transmittable stages of these emerging pathogens. We have dissected the process of Bartonella erythrocyte parasitism in experimentally infected animals using a novel approach for tracking blood infections based on flow cytometric quantification of green fluorescent protein-expressing bacteria during their interaction with in vivo-biotinylated erythrocytes. Bacteremia onset occurs several days after inoculation by a synchronous wave of bacterial invasion into mature erythrocytes. Intracellular bacteria replicate until reaching a stagnant number, which is sustained for the remaining life span of the infected erythrocyte. The initial wave of erythrocyte infection is followed by reinfection waves occurring at intervals of several days. Our findings unravel a unique bacterial persistence strategy adapted to a nonhemolytic intracellular colonization of erythrocytes that preserves the pathogen for efficient transmission by blood-sucking arthropods.

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