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Cell Microbiol. 2007 Mar;9(3):555-65. Epub 2007 Jan 11.

Contribution of toxins to the pathogenesis of inhalational anthrax.

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Pôle interactions hôte-pathogènes, Département de biologie des agents transmissibles, CRSSA, F-38702 La Tronche cedex, France.


Inhalational anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease of considerable concern, especially as a potential bioterrorism agent. Progress is gradually being made towards understanding the mechanisms used by Bacillus anthracis to escape the immune system and to induce severe septicaemia associated with toxaemia and leading to death. Recent advances in fundamental research have revealed previously unsuspected roles for toxins in various cell types. We summarize here pathological data for animal models and macroscopic histological examination data from recent clinical records, which we link to the effects of toxins. We describe three major steps in infection: (i) an invasion phase in the lung, during which toxins have short-distance effects on lung phagocytes; (ii) a phase of bacillus proliferation in the mediastinal lymph nodes, with local effects of toxins; and (iii) a terminal, diffusion phase, characterized by a high blood bacterial load and by long-distance effects of toxins, leading to host death. The pathophysiology of inhalational anthrax thus involves interactions between toxins and various cell partners, throughout the course of infection.

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