Cell Biology of Intracellular Adaptation of Mycobacterium leprae in the Peripheral Nervous System

Samuel Hess, Anura Rambukkana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The mammalian nervous system is invaded by a number of intracellular bacterial pathogens which can establish and progress infection in susceptible individuals. Subsequent clinical manifestation is apparent with the impairment of the functional units of the nervous system, i.e., the neurons and the supporting glial cells that produce myelin sheaths around axons and provide trophic support to axons and neurons. Most of these neurotrophic bacteria display unique features, have coevolved with the functional sophistication of the nervous system cells, and have adapted remarkably to manipulate neural cell functions for their own advantage. Understanding how these bacterial pathogens establish intracellular adaptation by hijacking endogenous pathways in the nervous system, initiating myelin damage and axonal degeneration, and interfering with myelin maintenance provides new knowledge not only for developing strategies to combat neurodegenerative conditions induced by these pathogens but also for gaining novel insights into cellular and molecular pathways that regulate nervous system functions. Since the pathways hijacked by bacterial pathogens may also be associated with other neurodegenerative diseases, it is anticipated that detailing the mechanisms of bacterial manipulation of neural systems may shed light on common mechanisms, particularly of early disease events. This chapter details a classic example of neurodegeneration, that caused by Mycobacterium leprae, which primarily infects glial cells of the peripheral nervous system (Schwann cells), and how it targets and adapts intracellularly by reprogramming Schwann cells to stem cells/progenitor cells. We also discuss implications of this host cell reprogramming by leprosy bacilli as a model in a wider context.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2019


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