How do bacteria colonize the heart valves in the pathogenesis of infective endocarditis (IE)?

Updated: Jan 03, 2019
  • Author: John L Brusch, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Answer

Colonization of heart valves by microorganisms is a complex process. Most transient bacteremias are short-lived, are without consequence, and are often not preventable. Bacteria rarely adhere to an endocardial nidus before the microorganisms are removed from the circulation by various host defenses.

Once microorganisms do establish themselves on the surface of the vegetation, the process of platelet aggregation and fibrin deposition accelerate at the site. As the bacteria multiply, they are covered by ever-thickening layers of platelets and thrombin, which protect them from neutrophils and other host defenses. Organisms deep in the vegetation hibernate because of the paucity of available nutrients and are therefore less susceptible to bactericidal antimicrobials that interfere with bacterial cell wall synthesis.

Complications of subacute endocarditis result from embolization, slowly progressive valvular destruction, and various immunological mechanisms. The pathological picture of subacute IE is marked by valvular vegetations in which bacteria colonies are present both on and below the surface.

The cellular reaction in SBE is primarily that of mononuclear cells and lymphocytes, with few polymorphonuclear cells. The surface of the valve beneath the vegetation shows few organisms. Proliferation of capillaries and fibroblasts is marked. Areas of healing are scattered among areas of destruction. Over time, the healing process falls behind, and valvular insufficiency develops secondary to perforation of the cusps and damage to the chordae tendineae. Compared with acute disease, little extension of the infectious process occurs beyond the valvular leaflets.


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