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Virulence. 2012 Mar-Apr;3(2):213-21. doi: 10.4161/viru.19586. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

Targeting of the central nervous system by Listeria monocytogenes.

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Microbes and Host Barriers Group, French National Reference Center and WHO Collaborating Center for Listeria, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.


Among bacteria that reach the central nervous system (CNS), Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) is one of deadliest, in human and ruminant. This facultative intracellular bacterium has the particularity to induce meningitis, meningoencephalitis and rhombencephalitis. Mechanisms by which Lm accesses the CNS remain poorly understood, but two major routes of infection have been proposed, based on clinical, in vitro and in vivo observations. A retrograde neural route is likely to occur in ruminants upon crossing of the oral epithelium, and this probably accounts for the observation that Lm induces almost exclusively rhombencephalitis in these animals. In contrast, the hematogenous route is likely the most frequent in human, in whom bacteria circulating in the blood, either free or associated with leukocytes are thought to breach the blood-brain barrier. New animal models that faithfully reproduce the hallmarks of human neurolisterisosis will allow addressing the molecular mechanisms underlying Lm ability to induce CNS disease, and improve our understanding of the pathophysiology of this deadly infection.

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