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J Appl Microbiol. 1998 Aug;85(2):337-46.

Tissue culture assays using Caco-2 cell line differentiate virulent from non-virulent Listeria monocytogenes strains.

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Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique de tours, Laboratoire de Pathologie Infectieuse et Immunologie, Nouzilly, France.


Within the group of Listeria sp., only L. monocytogenes is pathogenic for humans and numerous studies of L. monocytogenes strains have described non-virulent isolates. In this study, the potential value of two tissue culture assays (TCA) was analysed to ascertain the virulence properties of L. monocytogenes strains, initially typed for virulence using the immunocompromised mouse model (ICMM). The first assay assessed both the penetration into, and multiplication within, Caco-2 cells (PM assay): the second was a plaque-forming assay (PF assay). All the clinical isolates (nine strains) were virulent in both TCA. Conversely, all the non-pathogenic species (seven strains) were non-virulent in PM and PF assays. Compared with the virulence obtained in the ICMM with 29 Listeria strains, including 12 non-virulent L. monocytogenes strains, the sensitivity of both TCA was equal to1. Specificity was 0.89 and 0.84 for the PF and PM assays, respectively. However, a study of strains exhibiting virulence differences in three other in vivo virulence models showed that ICMM only detected highly virulent strains. The specificity of the PF test could, therefore, be higher, and close to that obtained by the enumeration of viable bacteria in the spleen of mice infected by subcutaneous injection in the footpad and by intravenous injection. Taken together, this study confirms the existence of low-virulence L. monocytogenes strains and shows that the virulence status of some non-clinical L. monocytogenes isolates depends on the virulence models used. The data suggest that the PF assay could be used as a primary test to evaluate the virulence of Listeria strains in order to reduce the cost of testing all strains in vivo.

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