Infection of distal peripheral nerves by M. leprae in infected armadillos; an experimental model of nerve involvement in leprosy.Int J Lepr Other Mycobact Dis. 1996 Jun; 64(2):146-51.IJ
Mechanisms of localization of Mycobacterium leprae to the peripheral nerves and of subsequent nerve injury are not understood. No experimental animal model has been available for use in examining the pathogenesis of M. leprae-induced nerve injury. A detailed dissection was, therefore, done of the major peripheral nerves in the extremities of six M. leprae-inoculated armadillos, three of which had developed characteristic disseminated infection. All of the animals with disseminated infection had extensive involvement of the peripheral nerves, increasing in intensity as the nerve was followed distally. No M. leprae were found in the animals without disseminated infection. The degree of infection was greater in epineural tissues than in the intraneural compartment (i.e., Schwann cells) at all levels. The infection of nerves by M. leprae was associated with focal interstitial, mononuclear cell infiltration of involved nerves. These results suggest that: 1) armadillos offer a model for the study of neural involvement in leprosy, since the pattern of neural distribution in susceptible armadillos is comparable to the pattern of nerve involvement in man; 2) early localization of M. leprae may be to the epineural tissues, including lymphatic and vascular structures and extracellular matrix; 3) Schwann cell involvement may be a late event; and 4) mechanisms involving the endothelium of epineural and perineural tissues may be important in the selective localization of M. leprae to peripheral nerves.