Rickettsiae and rickettsial infections: the current state of knowledge

Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Jul 15;45 Suppl 1:S39-44. doi: 10.1086/518145.


New human rickettsial pathogens have been discovered, and long-known rickettsiae of undetermined pathogenicity have been demonstrated to cause illness. Disease associated with Rickettsia slovaca has unique clinical manifestations, including prominent lymphadenopathy without fever and rash. Rickettsial genomes are highly conserved, with reductive evolution leading to a small genome that relies on the host cell for many biosynthetic functions. Advances in the evaluation of the pathogenesis of rickettsial disease include identification of rickettsial adhesins, a host cell receptor, signaling elements associated with entry of rickettsiae by induced phagocytosis, rickettsial enzymes mediating phagosomal escape, and host actin-based rickettsial cell-to-cell spread. Disruption of adherens junctions of infected endothelial cells likely plays a role in the critical pathophysiologic mechanism: increased microvascular permeability. Production of reactive oxygen species by infected endothelium injures these cells. However, disseminated intravascular coagulation rarely occurs. Immunity is mediated by reactive cytokine-activated rickettsicidal nitrogen and oxygen species and by clearance of rickettsiae by cytotoxic CD8 T cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rickettsia / classification
  • Rickettsia / genetics
  • Rickettsia / immunology
  • Rickettsia / pathogenicity*
  • Rickettsia Infections / genetics
  • Rickettsia Infections / immunology
  • Rickettsia Infections / physiopathology*