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. 1999 Jun;27(2):71-6.
doi: 10.1006/biol.1999.0182.

Review of the Biology of Bordetella Pertussis


Review of the Biology of Bordetella Pertussis

R Parton. Biologicals. .


Bordetella pertussis produces a complex array of adhesins, aggressins and toxins that are presumed to be important in the colonisation of its human host and in ensuring its survival and propagation. The organism also has highly sophisticated mechanisms for regulating virulence factor expression, in response to environmental signals or by reversible mutations. Despite the rapidly increasing knowledge of these aspects of the biology of B. pertussis, our understanding of the pathogenesis of whooping cough is still far from clear. In defining the role of individual factors, reliance has to be placed on in vitro assays or animal models of the human infection, particularly in the mouse, where different conditions may prevail. Some clues to pathogenic mechanisms may be provided by considering other bordetellae, especially B. parapertussis, B. bronchiseptica and B. avium, their similar, but not identical, range of virulence factors and the common features of the diseases caused by these species in their respective hosts. The bordetellae are usually defined as obligate, non-invasive parasites of the respiratory tracts of warm-blooded animals, including birds, with a predilection for the respiratory ciliated epithelium. This definition has been challenged by a number of recent observations. For example, the ability of Bordetella spp. to regulate virulence factor expression in response to external signals strongly suggests that they have alternative habitats where such regulation would be an advantage. These habitats may be intracellular, since it has been shown that B. pertussis, B. parapertussis and B. bronchiseptica can invade and survive within host cells, or they may be in other sites within the same or different hosts. Recent DNA fingerprinting studies of B. pertussis have revealed hitherto unsuspected heterogeneity amongst isolates which could be reflected in antigenic differences between strains. Some of these new perspectives on Bordetella pathogenicity may have implications for pertussis vaccine development.

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