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Keywords:

  • meningitis;
  • monocytes;
  • monocyte subpopulations;
  • bacterial infection

Abstract

Listeria monocytogenes is a facultative intracellular bacterium that has predilection for causing central nervous systemic infections in humans and domesticated animals. This pathogen can be found worldwide in the food supply and most L. monocytogenes infections are acquired through ingestion of contaminated food. The main clinical syndromes caused by L. monocytogenes include febrile gastroenteritis, perinatal infection, and systemic infections marked by central nervous system infections with or without bacteremia. Experimental infection of mice has been used for over 50 years as a model system to study the pathogenesis of this organism including the mechanisms by which it invades the brain. Data from this model indicate that a specific subset of monocytes, distinguished in part by high expression of the Ly-6C antigen, become parasitized in the bone marrow and have a key role in transporting intracellular bacteria across the blood-brain barriers and into the central nervous system. This Minireview will summarize recent epidemiologic and clinical information regarding L. monocytogenes as a human pathogen and will discuss current in vitro and in vivo data relevant to the role of parasitized monocytes and the pathogenetic mechanisms that underlie its formidable ability to invade the central nervous system.