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Respir Investig. 2013 Jun;51(2):56-68. doi: 10.1016/j.resinv.2013.01.001. Epub 2013 Mar 17.

Etiologic link between sarcoidosis and Propionibacterium acnes.

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Department of Human Pathology, Tokyo Medical and Dental University Graduate School, 1-5-45, Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8510, Japan.


Propionibacterium acnes is the only microorganism isolated from sarcoid lesions by bacterial culture. Numerous P. acnes genomes are found in lymph node samples from Japanese and European patients with sarcoidosis, whereas a few genomes are found in some non-sarcoid samples. The high frequency and specificity of detecting P. acnes within sarcoid granulomas suggests that this indigenous bacterium causes granuloma formation in many patients with sarcoidosis. P. acnes is the most common commensal bacterium in the lungs and lymph nodes. Occasional detection of P. acnes in non-granulomatous areas of these organs from non-sarcoid patients suggests that host factors are more critical than agent factors in the etiology of sarcoidosis. A particular protein, i.e., trigger factor, from P. acnes causes a cellular immune response only in sarcoid patients. The P. acnes trigger-factor protein induces pulmonary granulomas in mice sensitized with the protein and adjuvant, but only in those with latent P. acnes infection in their lungs. Eradication of P. acnes by antibiotics prevents the development of granulomas in this experimental model. P. acnes can cause latent infection in the lung and lymph nodes and persists in a cell wall-deficient form. The dormant form is endogenously activated under certain conditions and proliferates at the site of latent infection. In patients with P. acnes hypersensitivity, granulomatous inflammation is triggered by intracellular proliferation of the bacterium. Proliferating bacteria may escape granulomatous isolation, spreading to other organs. Latent P. acnes infection in systemic organs can be reactivated by another triggering event, leading to systemic sarcoidosis.

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