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Vet Q. 2001 Nov;23(4):153-62.

How does Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis resist intracellular degradation?

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


Paratuberculosis is a chronic, progressive disease of mainly ruminants caused by the facultative intracellular bacterium, Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis. Infection usually occurs in young animals through oral uptake of food contaminated with the organisms. The ingested bacteria are transcytosed through M-cells overlying the Peyer's patches and are released in the stroma, where they are taken up by macrophages. Inside the macrophage, the mycobacteria resist enzymatic and toxic degradation and multiply until the infected macrophage ruptures. The thick, lipid-rich cell envelope is mainly responsible for micobacterial resistance. In addition to its barrier effect, which provides protections, the mycobacterial cell wall also contains several biologically active components that down-regulate the bactericidal function of macrophages. The basic survival strategy of pathogenic mycobacteria can be viewed at three levels: selective use of relatively safe entry pathways that do not trigger oxidative attack, modification of the intracellular trafficking of mycobacteria-containing phagosomes, and modulation of the cooperation between the innate and specific immunity. In doing so, pathogenic mycobacteria are successful intracellular organisms that survive and multiply inside macrophages. Current understanding about the survival strategies of M. a. paratuberculosis and its implications in the epidemiology, diagnosis, and control of the disease are discussed.

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