The anaerobic pathogen Clostridium perfringens can escape the phagosome of macrophages under aerobic conditions

Cell Microbiol. 2000 Dec;2(6):505-19. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-5822.2000.00074.x.


Clostridium perfringens is the most common cause of gas gangrene (clostridial myonecrosis), a disease that begins when ischaemic tissues become contaminated with C. perfringens vegetative cells or spores. An aerotolerant anaerobe, C. perfringens quickly multiplies in ischaemic tissues and spreads to healthy areas, leading to a high level of morbidity and mortality. As a species, the bacterium can synthesize 13 different toxins, and these are thought to be the major virulence factors of the disease. However, we present evidence here that C. perfringens can also persist inside macrophages, under aerobic conditions, by escaping the phagosome into the cytoplasm. C. perfringens was not killed by the cells of a clone (J774-33) of the macrophage-like murine cell line J774A.1 under aerobic or anaerobic conditions, whereas the non-pathogenic bacterium Bacillus subtilis was killed by J774-33 cells under both conditions. Electron microscopy images showed that C. perfringens cells were intact and resided mostly in the cytoplasm of J774-33 cells, whereas B. subtilis was in the phagosome. Immunofluorescence microscopy showed that intracellular C. perfringens bacteria failed to co-localize with the late endosome-lysosomal marker glycoprotein LAMP-1, whereas B. subtilis did co-localize with LAMP-1. C. perfringens also appeared to escape the phagosome of both activated and unactivated mouse peritoneal macrophages, but not as efficiently as was seen with the J774-33 cell line. In addition, cytochalasin D was used to show that phagocytosis of C. perfringens was dependent on actin polymerization and that the bacteria attach to J774-33 cells at distinct areas of the cell membrane. We propose that the ability to escape the phagosome and persist inside macrophages is an important factor in the early stages of a gangrene infection, when bacterial numbers are low and phagocytic cells are present.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Aerobiosis
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Clostridium Infections / microbiology*
  • Clostridium perfringens / pathogenicity*
  • Clostridium perfringens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Macrophages / microbiology*
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / microbiology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis
  • Phagosomes / microbiology*


  • Actins
  • Antigens, CD
  • Lysosome-Associated Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins