C. ulcerans colonies on a blood agar plate.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Bacteria
Phylum: Actinobacteria
Order: Actinomycetales
Suborder: Corynebacterineae
Family: Corynebacteriaceae
Genus: Corynebacterium
Lehmann & Neumann 1896

C. accolens
C. afermentans
C. amycolatum
C. argentoratense C. aquaticum
C. auris
C. bovis
C. diphtheriae
C. equi (now Rhodococcus equi)
C. flavescens
C. glucuronolyticum C. glutamicum
C. granulosum
C. haemolyticum
C. halofytica
C. jeikeium (group JK)
C. macginleyi
C. matruchotii C. minutissimum
C. parvum (Propionibacterium acnes)
C. propinquum
C. pseudodiphtheriticum (C. hofmannii)
C. pseudotuberculosis
(C. ovis)
C. pyogenes
C. urealyticum (group D2)
C. renale
C. spec
C. striatum
C. tenuis
C. ulcerans
C. urealyticum
C. xerosis

Corynebacterium (kôr"u-nē-bak-tēr'ē-um, ku-rin'u-) is a genus of Gram-positive rod-shaped bacteria. They are widely distributed in nature and are mostly innocuous.[1] Some are useful in industrial settings such as C. glutamicum.[2] Others can cause human disease. C. diphtheriae, for example, is the pathogen responsible for diphtheria.



The genus Corynebacterium was created by Lehmann and Neumann in 1896 as a taxonomic group to contain the bacterial rods responsible for causing diphtheria. The genus was defined based on morphological characteristics. Thanks to studies of 16S-rRNA, they have been grouped into the subdivision of Gram-positive eubacteria with high G:C content, with close philogenetic relationship to Arthrobacter, Mycobacterium, Nocardia, and Streptomyces.[3] The term comes from the Greek corönë ("knotted rod") and bacterion ("rod"). The term "diphtheroids" is used to represent Corynebacteria that are non-pathogenic; for example, C. diphtheriae would be excluded.


The principal features of the Corynebacterium genus were described by Collins and Cummins in 1986.[4] They are Gram-positive, catalase positive, non-spore-forming, non-motile, rod-shaped bacteria that are straight or slightly curved.[5] Metachromatic granules are usually present representing stored phosphate regions. Their size falls between 2-6 micrometers in length and 0.5 micrometers in diameter. The bacteria group together in a characteristic way, which has been described as the form of a "V", "palisades", or "Chinese letters". They may also appear elliptical. They are aerobic or facultatively anaerobic, chemoorganotrophs, with a 51–65% genomic G:C content. They are pleomorphic through their life cycle: they come in various lengths and frequently have thickenings at either end, depending on the surrounding conditions.[6]

Cell wall

The cell wall is distinctive, with a predominance of meso-diaminopimelic acid in the murein wall[1][5] and many repetitions of arabinogalactan as well as corynemycolic acid (a mycolic acid with 22 to 26 carbon atoms), tied together by disaccharide bonds called L-Rhap-(1 → 4)--D-GlcNAc-phosphate. These form a complex commonly seen in Corynebacterium species: the mycolyl-AG–peptidoglican (mAGP).[7]


Corynebacteria grow slowly, even on enriched media. In terms of nutritional requirements, all need biotin to grow. Some strains also need thiamine and PABA.[4] Some of the Corynebacterium with sequenced genomes have between 2.5 and 3 million base pairs. The bacteria grow in Loeffler's medium, blood agar, and trypticase soy agar (TSA). They form small grayish colonies with a granular appearance, mostly translucent, but with opaque centers, convex, with continuous borders.[5] The color tends to be yellowish white in Loeffler's medium. In TSA, it can form grey colonies with black centers and dentated borders that look similar to flowers (C. gravis), or continuous borders (C. mitis), or a mix between the two forms (C. intermedium).


Corynebacteria species occur commonly in nature in the soil, water, plants, and food products.[1][5] The non-diphtheiroid Corynebacterium can even be found in the mucosa and normal skin flora of humans and animals.[1][5] Some species are known for their pathogenic effects in humans and other animals. Perhaps the most notable one is C. diphtheriae, which acquires the capacity to produce diphtheria toxin only after interacting with a bacteriophage.[8] Other pathogenic species in humans include: immunosuppressed patients. Pathogenic species in other animals include C. bovis and C. renale.[11]

Role in disease

The most notable human infection is diphtheria, caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is an acute and contagious infection characterized by pseudomembranes of dead epithelial cells, white blood cells, red blood cells, and fibrin that form around the tonsils and back of the throat.[12] It is an uncommon illness that tends to occur in unvaccinated individuals, especially school-aged children, those in developing countries,[13] elderly, neutropenic or immunocompromised patients, and those with prosthetic devices such as prosthetic heart valves, shunts, or catheters. It can occasionally infect wounds, the vulva, the conjunctiva, and the middle ear. It can be spread within a hospital.[14] The virulent and toxigenic strains are lysogenic, and produce an exotoxin formed by two polypeptide chains, which is itself produced when a bacterium is transformed by a gene from the β prophage.[8]

Several species cause disease in animals, most notably C. pseudotuberculosis which causes the disease caseous lymphadenitis and some are also pathogenic in humans. Some attack healthy hosts, while others tend to attack the immunocompromised. Effects of infection include granulomatous lymphadenopathy, pneumonitis, pharyngitis, skin infections, and endocarditis. Corynebacterial endocarditis is seen most frequently in patients with intravascular devices.[15] C. tenuis is believed to cause trichomycosis palmellina and trichomycosis axillaris.[16] C. striatum may cause axillary odor.[17] C. minutissimum causes erythrasma.

Industrial Uses

Non-pathogenic species of Corynebacterium are used for very important industrial applications, such as the production of amino acids,[18][19] nucleotides, and other nutritional factors (Martín, 1989); bioconversion of steroids;[20] degradation of hydrocarbons;[21] cheese aging;[22] and production of enzymes (Khurana et al., 2000). Some species produce metabolites similar to antibiotics: bacteriocins of the corynecin-linocin type,[14][23][24] anti-tumor agents,[25] etc. One of the most studied species is glutamic acid in aerobic conditions.[26] It is used in the foods industry as monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the production of soy sauce and yogurt.

Species of Corynebacterium have been used in the mass production of various amino acids including glutamic acid, a popular food additive that is made at a rate of 1.5 million tons/ year by Corynebacterium. The metabolic pathways of Corynebacterium have been further manipulated to produce lysine and threonine.

Expression of functionally active human epidermal growth factor has been done in C. glutamicum,[27] thus demonstrating a potential for industrial-scale production of human proteins. Expressed proteins can be targeted for secretion through either the general secretory pathway (Sec) or the twin-arginine translocation pathway (Tat).[28]

Unlike gram-negative bacteria, the gram-positive Corynebacterium lack lipopolysaccharides that function as antigenic endotoxins in humans.


Most species of corynebacteria are non-lipophilic, but some are lipophilic.


The nonlipophilic bacteria may be classified as fermentative and nonfermentative:

  • Nonfermentative Corynebacteria
    • Corynebacterium afermentans subsp. afermentans
    • Corynebacterium auris
    • Corynebacterium pseudodiphtheriticum
    • Corynebacterium propinquum[29]



  1. ^ a b c d Collins MD, Hoyles L, Foster G, Falsen E (May 2004). "Corynebacterium caspium sp. nov., from a Caspian seal (Phoca caspica)". Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 54 (Pt 3): 925–8. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.02950-0. PMID 15143043. 
  2. ^ Burkovski A (editor). (2008). Corynebacteria: Genomics and Molecular Biology. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 1904455301. [1]. 
  3. ^ Woese CR (June 1987). "Bacterial evolution". Microbiol. Rev. 51 (2): 221–71. PMC 373105. PMID 2439888. 
  4. ^ a b Collins, M. D. & Cummins, C. S. (1986). Genus Corynebacterium Lehmann and Neumann 1896, 350AL. In Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, vol. 2, pp. 1266–1276. Edited by P. H. A. Sneath, N. S. Mair, M. E. Sharpe & J. G. Holt. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
  5. ^ a b c d e Yassin AF, Kroppenstedt RM, Ludwig W (May 2003). "Corynebacterium glaucum sp. nov". Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 53 (Pt 3): 705–9. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.02394-0. PMID 12807190. 
  6. ^ Keddie RM, Cure GL (April 1977). "The cell wall composition and distribution of free mycolic acids in named strains of coryneform bacteria and in isolates from various natural sources". J. Appl. Bacteriol. 42 (2): 229–52. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2672.1977.tb00689.x. PMID 406255. 
  7. ^ Seidel M, Alderwick LJ, Sahm H, Besra GS, Eggeling L (February 2007). "Topology and mutational analysis of the single Emb arabinofuranosyltransferase of Corynebacterium glutamicum as a model of Emb proteins of Mycobacterium tuberculosis". Glycobiology 17 (2): 210–9. doi:10.1093/glycob/cwl066. PMID 17088267. 
  8. ^ a b Costa JJ, Michel JL, Rappuoli R, Murphy JR (October 1981). "Restriction map of corynebacteriophages beta c and beta vir and physical localization of the diphtheria tox operon". J. Bacteriol. 148 (1): 124–30. PMC 216174. PMID 6270058. 
  9. ^ Kono M, Sasatsu M, Aoki, T (1983). "R plasmids in Corynebacterium xerosis strains". Antimicrob. Ag. Chemoter. 23: 506−8. 
  10. ^ Pitcher DG (1983). "Deoxyribonucleic acid base composition of Corynebacterium diphtheriae and corynebacteria with cell wall type IV". FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 16 (2–3): 291−5. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.1983.tb00305.x. 
  11. ^ Watts y col., 2001; Hirsbrunner G et al. Nephrectomy for chronic, unilateral suppurative pyleonephritis in cattle. Tierarztl Prax, 1996 Feb, 24(1), 17 - 21; [Nephrectomy_for_chronic_unilateral_suppurative_pyleonephritis_in_cattle]
  12. ^ MedlinePlus - Difteria
  13. ^ IIZUKA, Hideyo, FURUTA, Joana Akiko, OLIVEIRA, Edison P. Tavares de. (1980). "Diphtheria: immunity in an infant population in the city of S. Paulo, SP, Brazil". Rev. Saúde Pública 14 (4): 462–8. doi:10.1590/S0034-89101980000400005. ISSN 0034-8910. 
  14. ^ a b Kerry-Williams SM, Noble WC (October 1986). "Plasmids in group JK coryneform bacteria isolated in a single hospital". J Hyg (Lond) 97 (2): 255–63. doi:10.1017/S0022172400065347. PMC 2083551. PMID 3023480. 
  15. ^ Cristóbal Leóna, Javier Ariza (2004). "Guías para el tratamiento de las infecciones relacionadas con catéteres intravasculares de corta permanencia en adultos: conferencia de consenso SEIMC-SEMICYUC". Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin 22 (2): 92–101. doi:10.1157/13056889. PMID 14756991. 
  16. ^ Trichomycosis axilarris at eMedicine
  17. ^ Natsch, A.; Gfeller, H.; Gygax, P.; Schmid, J. (2005). "Isolation of a bacterial enzyme releasing axillary malodor and its use as a screening target for novel deodorant formulations1". International Journal of Cosmetic Science 27 (2): 115–22. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2494.2004.00255.x. PMID 18492161. 
  18. ^ Hongo, M., Oki, T. and Ogata, S. (1972). "Phage contamination and control". In K. Yamada, S Kinoshita, T. Tsunoda, K. Aida. The Microbial Production of Amino Acids. New York: John Wiley. pp. 63−83. 
  19. ^ Yamada, K., Kinoshita, S., Tsunoda, T. and Aida, K. 1972. The Microbial Production of Amino Acids. Wiley, New York.
  20. ^ Constantinides A (January 1980). "Steroid transformation at high substrate concentrations using immobilized Corynebacterium simplex cells". Biotechnol. Bioeng. 22 (1): 119–36. doi:10.1002/bit.260220110. PMID 7350926. 
  21. ^ Cooper DG, Zajic JE, Gracey DE (February 1979). "Analysis of corynomycolic acids and other fatty acids produced by Corynebacterium lepus grown on kerosene". J. Bacteriol. 137 (2): 795–801. PMC 218359. PMID 422512. 
  22. ^ Lee CW, Lucas S, Desomazeaud MJ (1985). "Phenylalanine and tyrosine catabolism in some cheese coryneform bacteria". FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 26 (2): 201−5. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.1985.tb01591.x. 
  23. ^ Kerry-Williams SM, Noble WC (1984). "Plasmid associated bacteriocin production in a JK-type coryneform bacterium". FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 25 (2–3): 179−182. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.1984.tb01451.x. 
  24. ^ Suzuki T, Honda H, Katsumata R (1972). "Production of antibacterial compounds analogous to chloramphenicol by n-paraffin-grown bacteria". Agr. Biol. Chem. 36 (12): 2223−8. doi:10.1271/bbb1961.36.2223. 
  25. ^ Milas L, Scott MT (1978). "Antitumor activity of Corynebacterium parvum". Adv. Cancer Res.. Advances in Cancer Research 26: 257–306. doi:10.1016/S0065-230X(08)60090-1. ISBN 9780120066261. PMID 343523. 
  26. ^ Abe, S., Takayama, K. and Kinoshita, S. (1967). "Taxonomical studies on glutamic acid-producing bacteria". J. Gen. Appl. Microbiol. 13 (3): 279−301. doi:10.2323/jgam.13.279. 
  27. ^ Date M, Yokoyama K, Umezawa Y, Matsui H, Kikuchi Y (January 2006). “Secretion of human epidermal growth factor by Corynebacterium glutamicum.” Lett Appl Microbiol. 42 (1): 66-70.
  28. ^ Meissner D, Vollstedt A, van Dijl JM, Freudl R (September 2007). “Comparative analysis of twin-arginine (Tat)-dependent protein secretion of a heterologous model protein (GFP) in three different Gram-positive bacteria.” Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 76 (3): 633-42.
  29. ^ a b c Until this point in list the ref is: Funke G, von Graevenitz A, Clarridge JE, Bernard KA (January 1997). "Clinical microbiology of coryneform bacteria". Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 10 (1): 125–59. PMC 172946. PMID 8993861. 

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