Intracellular life

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1999;25(1):39-79. doi: 10.1080/10408419991299167.


Intracellular parasites and endosymbionts are present in almost all forms of life, including bacteria. Some eukaryotic organelles are believed to be derived from ancestral endosymbionts. Parasites and symbionts show several adaptations to intracellular life. A comparative analysis of their biology suggests some general considerations involved in adapting to intracellular life and reveals a number of independently achieved strategies for the exploitation of an intracellular habitat. Symbioses mainly based on a form of syntrophy may have led to the establishment of unique physiological systems. Generally, a symbiont can be considered to be an attenuated pathogen. The combination of morphological studies, molecular phylogenetic analyses, and palaeobiological data has led to considerable improvement in the understanding of intracellular life evolution. Comparing host and symbiont phylogenies could lead to an explanation of the evolutionary history of symbiosis. These studies also provide strong evidences for the endosymbiogenesis of the eukaryotic cell. Indeed, an eubacterial origin for mitochondria and plastids is well accepted and is suggested for other organelles. The expansion of intracellular living associations is presented, with a particular emphasis on peculiar aspects and/or recent data, providing a global evaluation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Organelles / physiology
  • Parasites / pathogenicity*
  • Parasites / physiology*
  • Symbiosis / physiology*
  • Virulence