What is the pathophysiology of gram-negative folliculitis?

Updated: Aug 07, 2019
  • Author: Mordechai M Tarlow, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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The anterior nares serve as a reservoir of gram-negative organisms. Prolonged systemic antibiotic treatment can alter the relative prevalence of bacterial flora carried in the nasal passages. An inverse relationship has been demonstrated between the presence of gram-positive organisms and gram-negative organisms in the pharyngeal, axillary, and toe-web flora. In patients with acne who are treated with oral antibiotics, the number of Staphylococcus aureus organisms and diphtheroids decreases and the number of coagulase-negative staphylococcal and enterobacterial organisms increases in the nose. Usually, gram-negative bacteria constitute less than 1% of the total bacterial flora in the nose. In patients with gram-negative folliculitis, enterobacteria constitute approximately 4% of the total bacterial flora.

The antibiotic-induced increase in gram-negative organisms usually does not result in adverse effects, and once antibiotic treatment is discontinued, the nasal flora reverts to its previous state. However, in a small number of patients, the increased number of gram-negative organisms results in a transfer of organisms to neighboring areas of the face. The bacteria populate existing acne lesions and can also cause pustules to arise de novo.

In addition to the need for suppression of interspecies interference, gram-negative organisms require a sufficiently moist environment to survive and proliferate. The presence of excessive seborrhea may promote the survival of gram-negative bacteria by trapping moisture in the face. The effectiveness of isotretinoin in the treatment of gram-negative folliculitis has been attributed to its ability to make the skin and the mucous membranes dry as a result of the marked reduction in sebaceous gland secretion.

Another factor has been implicated in the pathogenesis of gram-negative folliculitis. An assessment of hypersensitivity reactions to various microbial recall antigens and granulocyte functions was performed. Lowered serum concentrations of immunoglobulin M (IgM) and alpha1-antitrypsin and elevated levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) were found, suggesting that altered immunologic factors may play a critical role in the pathogenesis of gram-negative folliculitis.

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