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Rhodococcus equi

rhodococcus equi, rhodococcus equi foals
Rhodococcus equi is a Gram-positive coccobacillus bacterium The organism is commonly found in dry and dusty soil and can be important for diseases of domesticated animals horses and goats The frequency of infection can reach near 60% R equi is an important pathogen causing pneumonia in foals Since 2008, R equi has been known to infect wild boar and domestic pigs R equi can infect humans At-risk groups are immunocompromised people, such as HIV-AIDS patients or transplant recipients Rhodococcus infection in these patients resemble clinical and pathological signs of pulmonary tuberculosis It is facultative intracellular


  • 1 Hosts
  • 2 Virulence
  • 3 Virulence plasmid
  • 4 Pathogenicity island
  • 5 Taxonomic debate
  • 6 References
  • 7 Further reading


  • Pigs wild and domestic
  • Goats
  • Horses
  • Sheep
  • Cattle
  • Humans
  • Cats may become infected if wound is exposed


The most common route of infection in horses is likely via inhalation of contaminated dust particles Inhaled virulent strains of R equi are phagocytosed by alveolar macrophages During normal phagocytosis, bacteria are enclosed by the phagosome, which fuses with the lysosome to become a phagolysosome The internal environment of the phagolysosome contains nucleases and proteases, which are activated by the low pH of the compartment The macrophage produces bacteriocidal compounds eg, oxygen radicals following the respiratory burst However, like its close relative Mycobacterium tuberculosis, R equi prevents the fusion of the phagosome with the lysosome and acidification of the phagosome Additionally, the respiratory burst is inhibited This allows R equi to multiply within the phagosome where it is shielded from the immune system by the very cell that was supposed to kill it After about 48 hours, the macrophage is killed by necrosis, not apoptosis Necrosis is pro-inflammatory, attracting additional phagocytic cells to the site of infection, eventually resulting in massive tissue damage

Virulence plasmid

All strains isolated from foals and the majority of human, cattle, and pig isolates contain a large plasmid This plasmid has been shown to be essential for infection of foals, and presumably plays a similar role for infection of other hosts, although this has not been established yet Strains that lack the virulence plasmid are unable to proliferate in macrophages This virulence plasmid has been characterised in detail from equine and porcine strains, although only the former has been functionally characterised These circular plasmids consist of a conserved backbone responsible for replication and bacterial conjugation of the plasmid This portion of the plasmid is highly conserved and found in nonpathogenic Rhodococci plasmids In addition to the conserved region, the virulence plasmids contain a highly variable region that has undergone substantial genetic rearrangements, including inversion and deletions This region has a different GC-content from the rest of the plasmid, and is flanked by genes associated with mobile genetic elements It is therefore assumed to be derived from a different bacterial species than the backbone of the plasmid via lateral gene transfer

Pathogenicity island

The variable region of the virulence plasmid contain genes that are highly expressed following phagocytosis of R equi by macrophages This variable region is believed to be a pathogenicity island that contains genes essential for virulence

A hallmark of the pathogenicity island PAI is that many genes within it do not have homologues in other species The most notable of these are the virulence-associated protein vap genes All foals infected with R equi produce high levels of antibodies specific for vapA, the first vap gene to be characterised Deletion of vapA renders the resulting strain avirulent In addition to vapA, the PAI encodes a further five full-length vap homologues, one truncated vap gene, and two vap pseudogenes The porcine PAI contains five full-length vap genes, including the vapA homologue, vapB In addition to these unique genes, the PAI contains genes that have a known function, in particular two regulatory genes encoding the LysR-type regulator VirR and the response regulator Orf8 These two proteins have been shown to control expression of a number of PAI genes including vapA Other genes have homology to transport proteins and enzymes However, the functionality of these genes or how the proteins encoded within PAI subvert the macrophage has not yet been established

Taxonomic debate

While this organism is generally known as Rhodococcus equi, there has been taxonomic debate since the 1980s about whether this name is the valid name, with Rhodococcus hoagii and Prescottella equi both proposed as official alternative names Other names used include Nocardia restricta, Prescottia equi, Corynebacterium equi, Bacillus hoagii, Corynebacterium purulentus, Mycobacterium equi, Mycobacterium restrictum, and Proactinomyces restrictus


  1. ^ Muscatello, G; Leadon, DP; Klayt, M; Ocampo-Sosa, A; Lewis, DA; Fogarty, U; Buckley, T; Gilkerson, JR; Meijer, WG; Vazquez-Boland, JA September 2007 "Rhodococcus equi infection in foals: the science of 'rattles'" Equine veterinary journal 39 5: 470–8 doi:102746/042516407X209217 PMID 17910275 
  2. ^ Makrai, L; Kobayashi, A; Matsuoka, M; Sasaki, Y; Kakuda, T; Dénes, B; Hajtós, I; Révész, I; Jánosi, K; Fodor, L; Varga, J; Takai, S 15 October 2008 "Isolation and characterisation of Rhodococcus equi from submaxillary lymph nodes of wild boars Sus scrofa" Veterinary microbiology 131 3–4: 318–23 doi:101016/jvetmic200804009 PMID 18499361 
  3. ^ Kelly, B G; Wall, D M; Boland, C A; Meijer, W G 2002 "Isocitrate lyase of the facultative intracellular pathogen Rhodococcus equi" Microbiology 148 Pt 3: 793–798 doi:101099/00221287-148-3-793 PMID 11882714 
  4. ^ von Bargen, K; Polidori, M; Becken, U; Huth, G; Prescott, JF; Haas, A December 2009 "Rhodococcus equi virulence-associated protein A is required for diversion of phagosome biogenesis but not for cytotoxicity" Infection and Immunity 77 12: 5676–81 doi:101128/IAI00856-09 PMC 2786453  PMID 19797071 
  5. ^ Fernandez-Mora, E; Polidori, M; Lührmann, A; Schaible, UE; Haas, A August 2005 "Maturation of Rhodococcus equi-containing vacuoles is arrested after completion of the early endosome stage" Traffic Copenhagen, Denmark 6 8: 635–53 doi:101111/j1600-0854200500304x PMID 15998320 
  6. ^ Sydor, T; von Bargen, K; Hsu, FF; Huth, G; Holst, O; Wohlmann, J; Becken, U; Dykstra, T; Söhl, K; Lindner, B; Prescott, JF; Schaible, UE; Utermöhlen, O; Haas, A March 2013 "Diversion of phagosome trafficking by pathogenic Rhodococcus equi depends on mycolic acid chain length" Cellular microbiology 15 3: 458–73 doi:101111/cmi12050 PMC 3864644  PMID 23078612 
  7. ^ Hondalus, MK; Mosser, DM October 1994 "Survival and replication of Rhodococcus equi in macrophages" Infection and Immunity 62 10: 4167–75 PMC 303092  PMID 7927672 
  8. ^ Lührmann, A; Mauder, N; Sydor, T; Fernandez-Mora, E; Schulze-Luehrmann, J; Takai, S; Haas, A February 2004 "Necrotic death of Rhodococcus equi-infected macrophages is regulated by virulence-associated plasmids" Infection and Immunity 72 2: 853–62 doi:101128/iai722853-8622004 PMC 321572  PMID 14742529 
  9. ^ Letek, M; Ocampo-Sosa, AA; Sanders, M; Fogarty, U; Buckley, T; Leadon, DP; González, P; Scortti, M; Meijer, WG; Parkhill, J; Bentley, S; Vázquez-Boland, JA September 2008 "Evolution of the Rhodococcus equi vap pathogenicity island seen through comparison of host-associated vapA and vapB virulence plasmids" Journal of Bacteriology 190 17: 5797–805 doi:101128/JB00468-08 PMC 2519538  PMID 18606735 
  10. ^ Takai, S; Hines, SA; Sekizaki, T; Nicholson, VM; Alperin, DA; Osaki, M; Takamatsu, D; Nakamura, M; Suzuki, K; Ogino, N; Kakuda, T; Dan, H; Prescott, JF December 2000 "DNA sequence and comparison of virulence plasmids from Rhodococcus equi ATCC 33701 and 103" Infection and Immunity 68 12: 6840–7 doi:101128/iai68126840-68472000 PMC 97788  PMID 11083803 
  11. ^ Ren, J; Prescott, JF 1 July 2003 "Analysis of virulence plasmid gene expression of intra-macrophage and in vitro grown Rhodococcus equi ATCC 33701" Veterinary microbiology 94 2: 167–82 doi:101016/S0378-11350300099-3 PMID 12781484 
  12. ^ Jain, S; Bloom, BR; Hondalus, MK October 2003 "Deletion of vapA encoding Virulence Associated Protein A attenuates the intracellular actinomycete Rhodococcus equi" Molecular Microbiology 50 1: 115–28 doi:101046/j1365-2958200303689x PMID 14507368 
  13. ^ Russell, DA; Byrne, GA; O'Connell, EP; Boland, CA; Meijer, WG September 2004 "The LysR-type transcriptional regulator VirR is required for expression of the virulence gene vapA of Rhodococcus equi ATCC 33701" Journal of Bacteriology 186 17: 5576–84 doi:101128/JB186175576-55842004 PMC 516814  PMID 15317761 
  14. ^ a b Garrity, GM January 2014 "Conservation of Rhodococcus equi Magnusson 1923 Goodfellow and Alderson 1977 and rejection of Corynebacterium hoagii Morse 1912 Eberson 1918" International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 64 Pt 1: 311–2 doi:101099/ijs0059741-0 PMID 24408953 
  15. ^ Goodfellow, M; Sangal, V; Jones, AL; Sutcliffe, IC September 2015 "Charting stormy waters: A commentary on the nomenclature of the equine pathogen variously named Prescottella equi, Rhodococcus equi and Rhodococcus hoagii" Equine Veterinary Journal 47 5: 508–509 doi:101111/evj12399 PMID 25912143 
  16. ^ a b c d e f Berman, Jules J 2012 Taxonomic guide to infectious diseases : understanding the biologic classes of pathogenic organisms London: Elsevier/Academic Press p 266 ISBN 978-0-12-415895-5 

Further reading

  • Ashour, J; Hondalus, MK April 2003 "Phenotypic mutants of the intracellular actinomycete Rhodococcus equi created by in vivo Himar1 transposon mutagenesis" Journal of Bacteriology 185 8: 2644–52 doi:101128/jb18582644-26522003 PMC 152612  PMID 12670990 
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Rhodococcus equi

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