Localization of propionibacterium acnes in granulomas supports a possible etiologic link between sarcoidosis and the bacterium

Mod Pathol. 2012 Sep;25(9):1284-97. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2012.80. Epub 2012 May 18.


Sarcoidosis likely results from the exposure of a genetically susceptible subject to an environmental agent, possibly an infectious one. Mycobacterial and propionibacterial organisms are the most commonly implicated potential etiologic agents. Propionibacterium acnes is the only microorganism, however, found in sarcoid lesions by bacterial culture. To evaluate the pathogenic role of this indigenous bacterium, we screened for the bacterium in sarcoid and non-sarcoid tissues using immunohistochemical methods with novel P. acnes-specific monoclonal antibodies that react with cell-membrane-bound lipoteichoic acid (PAB antibody) and ribosome-bound trigger-factor protein (TIG antibody). We examined formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded samples of lungs and lymph nodes from 196 patients with sarcoidosis, and corresponding control samples from 275 patients with non-sarcoidosis diseases. The samples were mostly from Japanese patients, with 64 lymph node samples from German patients. Immunohistochemistry with PAB antibody revealed small round bodies within sarcoid granulomas in 20/27 (74%) video-assisted thoracic surgery lung samples, 24/50 (48%) transbronchial lung biopsy samples, 71/81 (88%) Japanese lymph node samples, and 34/38 (89%) German lymph node samples. PAB antibody did not react with non-sarcoid granulomas in any of the 45 tuberculosis samples or the 34 samples with sarcoid reaction. In nongranulomatous areas, small round bodies detected by PAB antibody were found in alveolar macrophages of lungs and paracortical macrophages of lymph nodes from many sarcoid and some non-sarcoid patients. Large-spheroidal acid-fast bodies, Hamazaki-Wesenberg bodies, which were found in 50% of sarcoid and 15% of non-sarcoid lymph node samples, reacted with both PAB and TIG antibodies. Electron microscopy revealed that these Hamazaki-Wesenberg bodies had a single bacterial structure and lacked a cell wall with occasional protrusions from the body. The high frequency and specificity of P. acnes, detected by PAB antibody within sarcoid granulomas, indicates that this indigenous bacterium might be the cause of granuloma formation in many sarcoid patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / pathology
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / surgery
  • Granuloma / microbiology*
  • Granuloma / pathology
  • Granuloma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Liver / microbiology
  • Liver / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / microbiology*
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Pigments, Biological / analysis
  • Propionibacterium acnes / isolation & purification*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / microbiology*
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / pathology
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / surgery


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Pigments, Biological