Actin-based motility of intracellular microbial pathogens

Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2001 Dec;65(4):595-626, table of contents. doi: 10.1128/MMBR.65.4.595-626.2001.


A diverse group of intracellular microorganisms, including Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella spp., Rickettsia spp., and vaccinia virus, utilize actin-based motility to move within and spread between mammalian host cells. These organisms have in common a pathogenic life cycle that involves a stage within the cytoplasm of mammalian host cells. Within the cytoplasm of host cells, these organisms activate components of the cellular actin assembly machinery to induce the formation of actin tails on the microbial surface. The assembly of these actin tails provides force that propels the organisms through the cell cytoplasm to the cell periphery or into adjacent cells. Each of these organisms utilizes preexisting mammalian pathways of actin rearrangement to induce its own actin-based motility. Particularly remarkable is that while all of these microbes use the same or overlapping pathways, each intercepts the pathway at a different step. In addition, the microbial molecules involved are each distinctly different from the others. Taken together, these observations suggest that each of these microbes separately and convergently evolved a mechanism to utilize the cellular actin assembly machinery. The current understanding of the molecular mechanisms of microbial actin-based motility is the subject of this review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / physiology*
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Listeria / pathogenicity
  • Listeria / physiology*
  • Rickettsia / pathogenicity
  • Rickettsia / physiology*
  • Shigella / pathogenicity
  • Shigella / physiology*
  • Vaccinia virus / pathogenicity
  • Vaccinia virus / physiology*


  • Actins