Bartonella spp. are facultative intracellular pathogens that employ a unique stealth infection strategy comprising immune evasion and modulation, intimate interaction with nucleated cells, and intraerythrocytic persistence. Infections with Bartonella are ubiquitous among mammals, and many species can infect humans either as their natural host or incidentally as zoonotic pathogens. Upon inoculation into a naive host, the bartonellae first colonize a primary niche that is widely accepted to involve the manipulation of nucleated host cells, e.g., in the microvasculature. Consistently, in vitro research showed that Bartonella harbors an ample arsenal of virulence factors to modulate the response of such cells, gain entrance, and establish an intracellular niche. Subsequently, the bacteria are seeded into the bloodstream where they invade erythrocytes and give rise to a typically asymptomatic intraerythrocytic bacteremia. While this course of infection is characteristic for natural hosts, zoonotic infections or the infection of immunocompromised patients may alter the path of Bartonella and result in considerable morbidity. In this review we compile current knowledge on the molecular processes underlying both the infection strategy and pathogenesis of Bartonella and discuss their connection to the clinical presentation of human patients, which ranges from minor complaints to life-threatening disease.
Clinical Microbiology Reviews
Clin Microbiol Rev. 2012 Jan;25(1):42-78