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PLoS One. 2010 Nov 18;5(11):e14034. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014034.

Olfactory nerve--a novel invasion route of Neisseria meningitidis to reach the meninges.

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Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Toxicology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


Neisseria meningitidis is a human-specific pathogen with capacity to cause septic shock and meningitis. It has been hypothesized that invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) is a complication of a bacteremic condition. In this study, we aimed to characterize the invasion route of N. meningitidis to the CNS. Using an intranasally challenged mouse disease model, we found that twenty percent of the mice developed lethal meningitis even though no bacteria could be detected in blood. Upon bacterial infection, epithelial lesions and redistribution of intracellular junction protein N-cadherin were observed at the nasal epithelial mucosa, especially at the olfactory epithelium, which is functionally and anatomically connected to the CNS. Bacteria were detected in the submucosa of the olfactory epithelium, along olfactory nerves in the cribriform plate, at the olfactory bulb and subsequently at the meninges and subarachnoid space. Furthermore, our data suggest that a threshold level of bacteremia is required for the development of meningococcal sepsis. Taken together, N. meningitidis is able to pass directly from nasopharynx to meninges through the olfactory nerve system. This study enhances our understanding how N. meningitidis invades the meninges. The nasal olfactory nerve system may be a novel target for disease prevention that can improve outcome and survival.

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