Study details why listeriosis rates are 20-fold higher during pregnancy

uently causes miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery. Babies that are born to infected mothers are often themselves infected, and many die.

From their earlier work, Portnoy and Bakardjiev knew that Listeria bacteria could not easily infect the placenta but, once there, could not be effectively eliminated. For this study, they wanted to know how the bacteria were able to invade the placenta in the first place: Their hypothesis was that the pathogens first infected organs such as the liver and moved from there to the placenta, an organ that, once infected, provides a protective niche for pathogens.

Bakardjiev, who is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, chose guinea pigs for these studies because of similarities between the placentas of these rodents and women. Pregnant guinea pigs and women also respond similarly to Listeria infection, exhibiting few symptoms, yet almost invariably miscarrying.

To induce infection, Bakardjiev injected the pregnant guinea pigs with Listeria. When she examined the animals' organs, she found that for every bacterium present in the placenta, there were 1,000 to 10,000 times as many in the liver and spleen, an indication that the placenta was fairly well protected from infection.

She then infected the animals with a mixture of two distinct strains of Listeria, adjusting the dose so low that placental infections resulted only half the time. When she examined the animals' placentas 24 hours after the injection, she found, with few exceptions, only one of the two bacterial strains. This told her that it had been a single bacterium that had infected the organ, and that what she was finding were its progeny.

In the liver and spleen, on the other hand, the bacterial strains were present in equal numbers 24 hours after injection. After 48 hours, the picture changed. At that point, Bakardjiev found a mixture of both strains in the placenta. In the liver and spleen, however, the numbers were

Contact: Liese Greensfelder
University of California - Berkeley

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