• Dr. Nicole Vumbaco | DVM

Bartonella and Connective Tissue Disorders

Updated: May 12

Disseminated, chronic forms of bartonella can cause a myriad of sequela (complications and syndromes). Bartonella is an intracellular pathogen with many adaptations and pathogenic strategies. One of those strategies involves using our host cytokine pathways for it’s own benefit. Cytokines are responsible for signaling inflammation. When Bartonella gains access to the human circulatory system, it can colonize secondary infections in locations distant and remote from the primary site of exposure (ie- away from the location of the initial cat bite, cat scratch, flea bite, etc). It targets and infects a multitude of cells in the body (including CD34+, fibroblasts, monocytes, macrophages, red blood cells, microglial cells, dendritic cells and endothelial cells). These characteristics allow this bacteria to manipulate our cellular function, but also subvert our immune system; This leads to unrivaled systemic involvement affecting multiple organ systems.

Connective tissue is a prime example. It is one of the most vast networks of tissue supporting our body and an environment that Bartonella thrives in. Bartonella targets collagen, connective tissue’s ground substance (the extracellular matrix) and certain cells that live there. Because of this, many patients suffering from bartonellosis have profound rheumatic (joint and muscle) symptoms, neurologic abnormalities, and immune dysfunction.

This often mimics auto-immune diseases like Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Scleroderma and Multiple Sclerosis. The impact is chronic inflammation. The collateral of chronic inflammation is tissue injury. This contributes to the development of bursitis, tendinosis, meniscal instability, joint pain, migraines, bone pain and neuropathy in bartonella positive patients.

The primary interest of this piece is the connection between Bartonella and Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disorders (UCTD). Before we dive into that, the best place to start is explaining what connective tissue is and why it is important.