What are Corynebacterium infections?

Updated: Jun 14, 2019
  • Author: Lynda A Frassetto, MD; Chief Editor: Pranatharthi Haran Chandrasekar, MBBS, MD  more...
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Answer

Corynebacteria (from the Greek words koryne, meaning club, and bacterion, meaning little rod) are gram-positive, catalase-positive, aerobic or facultatively anaerobic, generally nonmotile rods. The genus contains the species Corynebacterium diphtheriae and the nondiphtherial corynebacteria, collectively referred to as diphtheroids. Nondiphtherial corynebacteria, originally thought to be mainly contaminants, have increasingly over the past 2 decades been recognized as pathogenic, especially in immunocompromised hosts.

Approximately 30 years ago, taxonomic changes were made to diverse genera previously included within the coryneform groups. The reclassification is based on the degree of homology of RNA oligonucleotides between groups. Based on this reclassification, for example, Corynebacterium haemolyticum became Arcanobacterium haemolyticum and the JK group became Corynebacterium jeikeium. [1] More recently, Van den Velde and colleagues have suggested that species of corynebacteria would be more correctly identified based on their cellular fatty acid profiles (ie, for the C14 to C20 fatty acids). [2]

Advances in molecular biology and genome analysis now also allow for detailed descriptions of DNA-binding transcription factors and transcriptional regulatory networks. This was first described for Corynebacterium glutamicun. Web-based resources are available online at CoryneRegNet [3] and CoryneCenter. [4]

Prior to the 1990s, the incidence of diphtheria had been declining. However, an epidemic of diphtheria in the former Soviet Union was first noticed in the Russian republic in 1990 and then spread to the other newly independent states, peaking in the mid-1990s. In some endemic locations, such as India, 44% of throat and nasal swabs tested positive for C diphtheriae and Corynebacterium pseudodiphtheriticum. [5] Today, the more common scenario is nondiphtherial corynebacterial bacteremia associated with device infections (venous access catheters, heart valves, neurosurgical shunts, peritoneal catheters), as well as meningitis, septic arthritis, and urinary tract infections.

For more information about C diphtheriae infections, please see Diphtheria.

Most recently, an increase in nondiphtherial corynebacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues has been reported. [6, 7, 8]

Nondiphtherial corynebacteria also cause chronic and subclinical diseases in domestic animals and can lead to significant economic losses for farmers. Examples of widespread and difficult-to-control infections include Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis caseous lymphadenitis in sheep, goats, and alpacas; C pseudotuberculosis ulcerative dermatitis in cattle; and urinary tract infections and mastitis (affecting milk production) in cattle due to infection with Corynebacterium renale, Corynebacterium cystidis, Corynebacterium pilosum, and Corynebacterium bovis. [9, 10]


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