Francisella tularensis

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Francisella tularensis
Macrophage Infected with Francisella tularensis Bacteria (5950310835).jpg
Francisella tularensis bacteria (blue) infecting a macrophage (yellow)
Scientific classification edit
Domain: Bacteria
Phylum: Pseudomonadota
Class: Gammaproteobacteria
Order: Thiotrichales
Family: Francisellaceae
Genus: Francisella
F. tularensis
Binomial name
Francisella tularensis
(McCoy and Chapin 1912)
Dorofe'ev 1947

Francisella tularensis is a pathogenic species of Gram-negative coccobacillus, an aerobic bacterium.[1] It is nonspore-forming, nonmotile,[2] and the causative agent of tularemia, the pneumonic form of which is often lethal without treatment. It is a fastidious, facultative intracellular bacterium, which requires cysteine for growth.[3] Due to its low infectious dose, ease of spread by aerosol, and high virulence, F. tularensis is classified as a Tier 1 Select Agent by the U.S. government, along with other potential agents of bioterrorism such as Yersinia pestis, Bacillus anthracis, and Ebola virus. When found in nature, Francisella tularensis can survive for several weeks at low temperatures in animal carcasses, soil, and water. In the laboratory, F. tularensis appears as small rods (0.2 by 0.2 µm), and is grown best at 35–37 °C.[4]


This species was discovered in ground squirrels in Tulare County, California in 1911. Bacterium tularense was soon isolated by George Walter McCoy (1876–1952) of the US Plague Lab in San Francisco and reported in 1912. In 1922, Edward Francis (1872–1957), a physician and medical researcher from Ohio, discovered that Bacterium tularense was the causative agent of tularemia, after studying several cases with symptoms of the disease. Later, it became known as Francisella tularensis, in honor of the discovery by Francis.[5][6][7]

The disease was also described in the Fukushima region of Japan by Hachiro Ohara in the 1920s, where it was associated with hunting rabbits.[8] In 1938, Soviet bacteriologist Vladimir Dorofeev (1911–1988) and his team recreated the infectious cycle of the pathogen in humans, and his team was the first to create protection measures. In 1947, Dorofeev independently isolated the pathogen that Francis discovered in 1922. Hence it is commonly known as Francisella dorofeev in former Soviet countries.


Image taken with a fluorescent microscope shows mouse macrophages 12 hours after infection with a virulent strain of Francisella tularensis green

Three subspecies (biovars) of F. tularensis are recognised (as of 2020):[8]

  1. F. t. tularensis (or type A), found predominantly in North America, is the most virulent of the four known subspecies, and is associated with lethal pulmonary infections. This includes the primary type A laboratory strain, SCHUS4.
  2. F. t. holarctica (also known as biovar F. t. palearctica or type B) is found predominantly in Europe and Asia, but rarely leads to fatal disease. An attenuated live vaccine strain of subspecies F. t. holarctica has been described, though it is not yet fully licensed by the Food and Drug Administration as a vaccine. This subspecies lacks the citrulline ureidase activity and ability to produce acid from glucose of biovar F. t. palearctica.
  3. F. t. mediasiatica, is found primarily in central Asia; little is currently known about this subspecies or its ability to infect humans.

Additionally, F. novicida[9] has sometimes previously been classified as F. t. novicida. It was characterized as a relatively nonvirulent Francisella; only two tularemia cases in North America have been attributed to the organism, and these were only in severely immunocompromised individuals.


F. tularensis has been reported in invertebrates including insects and ticks, and vertebrates such as birds, amphibians, reptiles,[citation needed] fish[citation needed] and mammals, including humans.[8] Human infection is often caused by vectors, particularly ticks but also mosquitos, deer flies and horse-flies. Direct contact with infected animals or carcasses is another source.[8] Important reservoir hosts include lagomorphs (e.g. rabbits), rodents,[8] galliform birds and deer.[citation needed] Infection via fomites (objects) is also important.[8] Human-to-human transmission has not been demonstrated.[citation needed]

F. tularensis can survive for weeks outside a mammalian host[citation needed] and has been found in water,[8] grassland, and haystacks. Aerosols containing the bacteria may be generated by disturbing carcasses due to brush cutting or lawn mowing; as a result, tularemia has been referred to as "lawnmower disease". Epidemiological studies have shown a positive correlation between occupations involving the above activities and infection with F. tularensis.[citation needed]

Human infection with F. tularensis can occur by several routes. Portals of entry are through blood and the respiratory system. The most common occurs via skin contact, yielding an ulceroglandular form of the disease. Inhalation of bacteria,[8] particularly biovar F. t. tularensis,[citation needed] leads to the potentially lethal pneumonic tularemia. While the pulmonary and ulceroglandular forms of tularemia are more common, other routes of inoculation have been described and include oropharyngeal infection due to consumption of contaminated food or water, and conjunctival infection due to inoculation at the eye.[8]


F. tularensis is a facultative intracellular bacterium that is capable of infecting most cell types, but primarily infects macrophages in the host organism.[citation needed] Entry into the macrophage occurs by phagocytosis and the bacterium is sequestered from the interior of the infected cell by a phagosome.[citation needed] F. tularensis then breaks out of this phagosome into the cytosol and rapidly proliferates. Eventually, the infected cell undergoes apoptosis, and the progeny bacteria are released in a single "burst" event[10] to initiate new rounds of infection.

Virulence factors

A tularemia lesion on the dorsal skin of a hand

The virulence mechanisms for F. tularensis have not been well characterized. Like other intracellular bacteria that break out of phagosomal compartments to replicate in the cytosol, F. tularensis strains produce different hemolytic agents, which may facilitate degradation of the phagosome.[11] A hemolysin activity, named NlyA, with immunological reactivity to Escherichia coli anti-HlyA antibody, was identified in biovar F. t. novicida.[12] Acid phosphatase AcpA has been found in other bacteria to act as a hemolysin, whereas in Francisella, its role as a virulence factor is under vigorous debate.

F. tularensis contains type VI secretion system (T6SS), also present in some other pathogenic bacteria.[13] It also contains a number of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) proteins that may be linked to the secretion of virulence factors.[14] F. tularensis uses type IV pili to bind to the exterior of a host cell and thus become phagocytosed. Mutant strains lacking pili show severely attenuated pathogenicity.

The expression of a 23-kD protein known as IglC is required for F. tularensis phagosomal breakout and intracellular replication; in its absence, mutant F. tularensis cells die and are degraded by the macrophage. This protein is located in a putative pathogenicity island regulated by the transcription factor MglA.

F. tularensis, in vitro, downregulates the immune response of infected cells, a tactic used by a significant number of pathogenic organisms to ensure their replication is (albeit briefly) unhindered by the host immune system by blocking the warning signals from the infected cells. This downmodulation of the immune response requires the IglC protein, though again the contributions of IglC and other genes are unclear. Several other putative virulence genes exist, but have yet to be characterized for function in F. tularensis pathogenicity.


Like many other bacteria, F. tularensis undergoes asexual replication. Bacteria divide into two daughter cells, each of which contains identical genetic information. Genetic variation may be introduced by mutation or horizontal gene transfer.

The genome of F. t. tularensis strain SCHU4 has been sequenced.[15] The studies resulting from the sequencing suggest a number of gene-coding regions in the F. tularensis genome are disrupted by mutations, thus create blocks in a number of metabolic and synthetic pathways required for survival. This indicates F. tularensis has evolved to depend on the host organism for certain nutrients and other processes ordinarily taken care of by these disrupted genes.

The F. tularensis genome contains unusual transposon-like elements resembling counterparts that normally are found in eukaryotic organisms.


Much of the known global genetic diversity of F. t. holarctica is present in Sweden.[16] This suggests this subspecies originated in Scandinavia and spread from there to the rest of Eurosiberia.


F. tularensis colonies on an agar plate

Infection by F. tularensis is diagnosed by clinicians based on symptoms and patient history, imaging, and laboratory studies.


Tularemia is treated with antibiotics, such as aminoglycosides, tetracyclines, or fluoroquinolones. About 15 proteins were suggested that could facilitate drug and vaccine design pipeline.[17]


Preventive measures include preventing bites from ticks, flies, and mosquitos; ensuring that all game is cooked thoroughly; refraining from drinking untreated water and using insect repellents. If working with cultures of F. tularensis, in the lab, wear a gown, impermeable gloves, mask, and eye protection. When dressing game, wear impermeable gloves. A live attenuated vaccine is available for individuals who are at high risk for exposure such, as laboratory personnel.[18]

Use as a biological weapon

When the U.S. biological warfare program ended in 1969, F. tularensis was one of seven standardized biological weapons it had developed as part of German-American cooperation in the 1920s–1930s.[19]

See also


  1. "Francisella tularensis" (PDF). Wadsworth Center: New York State Department of Health. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  2. "Tularemia (Francisella tularensis)" (PDF). Michigan Department of Community Health. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 March 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  3. Ryan KJ; Ray CG, eds. (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology (4th ed.). McGraw Hill. pp. 488–90. ISBN 0-8385-8529-9.
  4. "Francisella tularensis". Archived from the original on 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2023-01-28.
  5. Tärnvik, A.; Berglund, L. (1 February 2003). "Tularaemia". European Respiratory Journal. 21 (2): 361–373. doi:10.1183/09031936.03.00088903. PMID 12608453. S2CID 219200617. Archived from the original on 28 October 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  6. McCoy GW, Chapin CW. Bacterium tularense, the cause of a plaguelike disease of rodents. Public Health Bull 1912;53:17–23.
  7. "Jeanette Barry, Notable Contributions to Medical Research by Public Health Service Scientists. National Institute of Health, Public Health Service Publication No. 752, 1960, p. 36" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-05-02. Retrieved 2023-01-28.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 Sam R. Telford III, Heidi K. Goethert (2020). "Ecology of Francisella tularensis", Annual Review of Entomology 65: 351–372 doi:10.1146/annurev-ento-011019-025134
  9. Sjöstedt AB. "Genus I. Francisella Dorofe'ev 1947, 176AL". Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology. Vol. 2 (The Proteobacteria), part B (The Gammaproteobacteria) (2nd ed.). New York: Springer. pp. 200–210.
  10. Carruthers, Jonathan; Lythe, Grant; López-García, Martín; Gillard, Joseph; Laws, Thomas R.; Lukaszewski, Roman; Molina-París, Carmen (2020-06-01). "Stochastic dynamics of Francisella tularensis infection and replication". PLOS Computational Biology. 16 (6): e1007752. Bibcode:2020PLSCB..16E7752C. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007752. ISSN 1553-7358. PMC 7304631. PMID 32479491.
  11. Mohapatra, Nrusingh P.; Soni, Shilpa; Reilly, Thomas J.; Liu, Jirong; Klose, Karl E.; Gunn, John S. (2008). "Combined Deletion of Four Francisella novicida Acid Phosphatases Attenuates Virulence and Macrophage Vacuolar Escape". Infection and Immunity. 76 (8): 3690–3699. doi:10.1128/IAI.00262-08. PMC 2493204. PMID 18490464. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-03-07. Retrieved 2023-01-28.
  12. "Wiley Online Library". Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  13. Spidlova, Petra; Stulik, Jiri (2017). "Francisella tularensis type VI secretion system comes of age". Virulence. 8 (6): 628–631. doi:10.1080/21505594.2016.1278336. ISSN 2150-5594. PMC 5626347. PMID 28060573.
  14. Atkins H, Dassa E, Walker N, Griffin K, Harland D, Taylor R, Duffield M, Titball R (2006). "The identification and evaluation of ATP binding cassette systems in the intracellular bacterium Francisella tularensis". Res Microbiol. 157 (6): 593–604. doi:10.1016/j.resmic.2005.12.004. PMID 16503121.
  15. Larsson P, Oyston P, Chain P, et al. (2005). "The complete genome sequence of Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularemia". Nat Genet. 37 (2): 153–9. doi:10.1038/ng1499. PMID 15640799.
  16. Karlsson E, Svensson K, Lindgren P, Byström M, Sjödin A, Forsman M, Johansson A (2012) The phylogeographic pattern of Francisella tularensis in Sweden indicates a Scandinavian origin of Eurosiberian tularaemia. Environ Microbiol doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12052
  17. Francisella tularensis: In silico Identification of Drug and Vaccine Targets by Metabolic Pathway Analysis J Harati, J Fallah The 6th Conference on Bioinformatics
  18. "Part IV : Acute Communicable Diseases" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  19. Croddy, Eric C. and Hart, C. Perez-Armendariz J., Chemical and Biological Warfare, (Google Books Archived 2023-04-03 at the Wayback Machine), Springer, 2002, pp. 30–31, (ISBN 0387950761), accessed October 24, 2008.

Further reading

External links