Yersinia Infection And Immunity

Risto Tertti, Department of Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland Auli Toivanen, Department of Medicine, Turku University, Turku, Finland

Yersinias are gram-negative rods and belong to the family Enterobacteriaceae. The three Yersinia species virulent for humans and rodents are Y. pestis, Y. pseudotuberculosis and certain serotypes of Y. en-terocolitica. They all show tropism for lymphoid tissue. However, yersiniosis, the disease caused by V. pseudotuberculosis and Y. enterocolitica is very different from bubonic plague or 'black death' caused by Y. pestis. Yersiniosis is characterized in the acute phase by gastroenteritis with inflammation of the ter minal ileum and mesenteric lymph nodes, and it is sometimes followed by postinfection complications, but life-threatening infections are exceptional. In contrast, as recently as in 1988, 13 of 1363 reported cases of bubonic plague were fatal. Interestingly enough, Y. pest is and Y. pseudotuberculosis show an extremely high degree of homology at the DNA level.

The virulence of Yersinia species depends on a 70-80 kb virulence plasmid, but chromosomal genes also contribute to virulence. Serotyping of Yersinia species is based on lipopolysaccharide. At least 57 serotypes of Y. enterocolitica and 13 serotypes of Y. pseudotuberculosis have been determined, and certain serotypes are clearly more virulent than others. Nevertheless, the role of lipopolysaccharide in the virulence of Yersinia has not been established.

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