Background Morgellons disease is characterized by dysesthesias and dermatologic lesions that range from minor to disfiguring (Savely VR, Leitao MM, Stricker RB. Am J Clin Dermatol 2006;7:1-5). The disease has been reported primarily in Florida, Texas, and California. Although an infectious etiology of Morgellons disease has been postulated, treatment of the disease remains problematic, with many patients having inadequate responses to antimicrobial therapy. Skin biopsies of Morgellons patients reveal nonspecific pathology or an inflammatory process with no observable pathogens, often with fibrous material projecting from inflamed epidermal tissue. Morgellons skin fibers appear to contain cellulose. This observation indicates possible involvement of pathogenic Agrobacterium, which is known to produce cellulose fibers at infection sites within host tissues.
Methods Skin biopsy samples from two Morgellons patients were subjected to high-stringency PCR testing for genes encoded by the Agrobacterium chromosome. Screening of the same samples for Agrobacterium virulence (vir) genes and T-DNA sequences in the patient's genome was also performed.
Results PCR screening indicated that the presence of Agrobacterium genes derived from both the chromosome andthe Ti plasmid, including the T-DNA, in tissues from both Morgellons patients.
Conclusions Our preliminary results indicate that Agrobacterium may be involved in the etiology and/or progression of Morgellons disease. If these results are confirmed, it would be the first example of a plant-infecting bacterium playing a role in human disease. Further testing is ongoing to validate this observation and to determine whether Agrobacterium not only resides in the infected areas but also transforms them genetically.
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