Pneumococcal carriage results in ganglioside-mediated olfactory tissue infection

Academic Article


  • Streptococcus pneumoniae cause considerable morbidity and mortality, with persistent neurological sequelae, particularly in young children and the elderly. It is widely assumed that carriage occurs through direct mucosal colonization from the environment whereas meningitis results from invasion from the blood. However, the results of published studies can be interpreted that pneumococci may enter the brain directly from the nasal cavity by axonal transport through olfactory nerves. This hypothesis is based on findings that (i) teichoic acid of the pneumococcal cell wall interact with gangliosides (GLS), (ii) the interaction of GLS with cholera toxin leads to axonal transport through the olfactory nerves into the brain, and (iii) viruses enter the brain through axonal transport into olfactory nerves. After nasal inoculation, we observe high numbers of pneumococci in nasal washes and the olfactory nerves and epithelium. Significant numbers of pneumococci also infected the olfactory bulbs, brain, and the trigeminal ganglia. The absence of bacteremia in this model makes it unlikely that the bacteria entered the brain from the blood stream. Recovery of colony-forming units from the brain, lungs, olfactory nerves, and epithelium and nasal washes was inhibited by incubating pneumococci with GLS before nasal inoculation. These findings, confirmed by PCR and immunohistochemistry, support a GLS-mediated process of infection and are consistent with pneumococci reaching the brain through retrograde axonal transport.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 5722887
  • Author List

  • Van Ginkel FW; McGhee JR; Watt JM; Campos-Torres A; Parish LA; Briles DE
  • Start Page

  • 14363
  • End Page

  • 14367
  • Volume

  • 100
  • Issue

  • SUPPL. 2