Mycoplasma Infection And Immunity

Juliane Hentschel, Department of Neonatology, Virchow-KIinikum, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Peter F Mühlradt, Immunobiology Research Group, Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung, Braunschweig, Germany

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mycoplasmas and Ureaplasmas are bacteria of the class Mollicutes (soft-skinned), the order Mycoplas-matales and the family Mycoplasmataceae. They have no cell wall, the cytoplasm being bordered by a membrane only, and their morphology is varied, from filamentous to flask-shaped, and in older cultures coccoid (Figure 1). They are considered to be

Figure 1 Scanning electron micrograph of critical point-dried mycoplasmas from a liquid culture. (A) M. pneumoniae; (B) M. fermentans; (C) M. hyorhinis. Bars represent 1 p,m (Courtesy of M Rohde, Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung mbH.)

among the smallest self-replicating organisms; in fact they are so small and pliable that they can pass through bacterial filters. In the history of mycoplas-mology this has caused confusion, and the first described mycoplasma, the agent of bovine pleuropneumonia, was mistaken for a virus. Later, because of the absence of a cell wall, mycoplasmas were considered to be L-form bacteria and only in the early 1960s, based on determinations of the guanine-cyto-sine content and on DNA-DNA hybridization data, were they recognized as a class of their own.

Except for M. penetrans which is an intracellular organism, mycoplasmas and ureaplasmas colonize cell surfaces, usually those of epithelial cells of the upper respiratory and urogenital tracts. In the human they are mostly harmless commensals. However, mycoplasmas can also cause serious disease in humans and animals, from farmed crocodiles to poultry and cattle. Other mollicutes can infect insects and plants. Moreover, mycoplasmas are contaminants of about 30-50% of cultured animal cell lines.

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