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Open Access Research article

Tracking the transcriptional host response from the acute to the regenerative phase of experimental pneumococcal meningitis

Matthias Wittwer, Denis Grandgirard, Janine Rohrbach and Stephen L Leib*

Author Affiliations

Institute for Infectious Diseases, University of Bern, Friedbuehlstrasse 51, CH-3010 Bern, Switzerland

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:176  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-176

Published: 17 June 2010



Despite the availability of effective antibiotic therapies, pneumococcal meningitis (PM) has a case fatality rate of up to 30% and causes neurological sequelae in up to half of the surviving patients. The underlying brain damage includes apoptosis of neurons in the hippocampus and necrosis in the cortex. Therapeutic options to reduce acute injury and to improve outcome from PM are severely limited.

With the aim to develop new therapies a number of pharmacologic interventions have been evaluated. However, the often unpredictable outcome of interventional studies suggests that the current concept of the pathophysiologic events during bacterial meningitis is fragmentary. The aim of this work is to describe the transcriptomic changes underlying the complex mechanisms of the host response to pneumococcal meningitis in a temporal and spatial context using a well characterized infant rat model.


Eleven days old nursing Wistar rats were infected by direct intracisternal injection of 2 × 106cfu/ml of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Animals were sacrificed at 1, 3, 10 and 26 days after infection, the brain harvested and the cortex and hippocampus were sampled. The first two time points represent the acute and sub-acute phase of bacterial meningitis, whereas the latter represent the recovery phase of the disease.


The major events in the regulation of the host response on a transcriptional level occur within the first 3 days after infection. Beyond this time, no differences in global gene expression in infected and control animals were detectable by microarray analysis. Whereas in the acute phase of the disease immunoregulatory processes prevail in the hippocampus and the cortex, we observed a strong activation of neurogenic processes in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, both by gene expression and immunohistology starting as early as 3 days after infection.


Here we describe the cellular pathways involved in the host response to experimental pneumococcal meningitis in specified disease states and brain regions. With these results we hope to provide the scientific basis for the development of new treatment strategies which take the temporal aspects of the disease into account.