Interaction of mycoplasmas with host cells

Physiol Rev. 2003 Apr;83(2):417-32. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00030.2002.


The mycoplasmas form a large group of prokaryotic microorganisms with over 190 species distinguished from ordinary bacteria by their small size, minute genome, and total lack of a cell wall. Owing to their limited biosynthetic capabilities, most mycoplasmas are parasites exhibiting strict host and tissue specificities. The aim of this review is to collate present knowledge on the strategies employed by mycoplasmas while interacting with their host eukaryotic cells. Prominant among these strategies is the adherence of mycoplasma to host cells, identifying the mycoplasmal adhesins as well as the mammalian membrane receptors; the invasion of mycoplasmas into host cells including studies on the role of mycoplasmal surface molecules and signaling mechanisms in the invasion; the fusion of mycoplasmas with host cells, a novel process that raises intriguing questions of how microinjection of mycoplasma components into eukaryotic cells subvert and damage the host cells. The observations of diverse interactions of mycoplasmas with cells of the immune system and their immunomodulatory effects and the discovery of genetic systems that enable mycoplasmas to rapidly change their surface antigenic composition have been important developments in mycoplasma research over the past decade, showing that mycoplasmas possess an impressive capability of maintaining a dynamic surface architecture that is antigenically and functionally versatile, contributing to the capability of the mycoplasmas to adapt to a large range of habitats and cause diseases that are often chronic in nature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Cell Fusion
  • Humans
  • Mycoplasma / cytology*
  • Mycoplasma / immunology
  • Mycoplasma / pathogenicity
  • Mycoplasma / physiology*
  • Mycoplasma Infections / immunology
  • Mycoplasma Infections / physiopathology