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The Whipple Bacillus

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Invisible to the naked eye, Tropheryma whipplei is a tiny microbe that lives in the human body. It can cause Whipple’s disease, which is rare but nearly always fatal unless treated with antibiotics. With symptoms that include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fever, Whipple’s disease seems to mimic more common diseases.

The bacillus was named after the American pathologist George Hoyt Whipple, who described the disease for the first time in 1907. Almost a century later, researchers have now sequenced the genome of the T. whipplei bacterium.

The three fluorescence in-situ hybridization images below feature tissue samples from patients with Whipple’s disease.

Triple-stained section of Whipple's disease intestine (original magnification, x400) showing infiltration of the lamina propria with vimentin-staining cells and T. whipplei rRNA. Tropheryma whipplei rRNA is blue, nuclei of human cells are green and the intracellular cytoskeletal protein vimentin is red.
Region of Whipple's disease intestine (original magnification, x600).
Triple-stained section of a Whipple's disease lymph node. Note the blue signal from T. whipplei rRNA probe (original magnification, x400).

Birgit Reinert

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