U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


Date of this Version


Document Type



The Journal of Infectious Diseases 1997;1 76:752-4


Cultivation of the bacillus associated with Whipple's disease, Tropheryma whippelii, has been an elusive goal for many generations of clinicians and microbiologists familiar with this disease. The desire to identify this enigmatic organism has motivated many of these efforts. Many purported successes have later proven erroneous, and many more unsuccessful attempts have never been reported [1]. Cell-free media, animal cells, and animals themselves have all been used, resulting in recovery of a wide range of bacterial species, including members of the Corynebacterium, Streptococcus, Propionibacterium, and Haemophilus genera. The rough resemblance of Rhodococcus equi- , Mycobacterium paratuberculosis-, and Mycobacterium avium complex-associated diseases in foals, cows, and humans, respectively, to Whipple's disease has been noted; however, pathology closely mimicking that of the latter has never been knowingly and intentionally transferred to another human nor reproduced in a nonhuman host. Despite the unusual cell wall features of this bacillus and its reactivity to the periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) reagent [2], the absence of a specific microbial signature has greatly hindered efforts to evaluate these previous cultivation efforts.