Mycoplasma pneumoniae: Introduction, Morphology, Pathogenicity, Lab Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, and Keynotes


Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a unique type of bacteria that belongs to the class Mollicutes. What sets it apart from other bacteria is its lack of a cell wall, which is a characteristic feature of most bacterial species. This absence of a cell wall makes M. pneumoniae resistant to many antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis.

Mycoplasma pneumoniae is well-known for its role as a causative agent of atypical or walking pneumonia, a milder form of pneumonia that often doesn’t require hospitalization. This bacterium primarily affects the respiratory tract, particularly the lungs. It’s a common cause of respiratory infections in individuals of all ages, but it’s more prevalent among school-age children and young adults.

The symptoms of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection are similar to those of other types of pneumonia and can include:

  1. Persistent cough
  2. Sore throat
  3. Fatigue
  4. Fever
  5. Chest pain
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Headache

Due to the absence of a cell wall, M. pneumoniae has a pleomorphic (variable shape) appearance and a very small size, ranging from 0.2 to 0.8 micrometers. It can be challenging to culture and identify using traditional laboratory methods, but molecular techniques have improved the accuracy of detection.

The mode of transmission for M. pneumoniae is primarily through respiratory droplets, making close person-to-person contact a common route of infection. It’s known for its ability to spread rapidly in crowded places like schools, military barracks, and college dormitories.

Treatment of M. pneumoniae infections often involves antibiotics like macrolides, tetracyclines, or fluoroquinolones. However, resistance to antibiotics has been on the rise, underscoring the importance of proper diagnosis and effective antibiotic management.


The morphology of Mycoplasma pneumoniae is distinct and noteworthy due to its unique characteristics. Here’s an overview of its morphology:

  1. Cell Shape and Size: Mycoplasma pneumoniae is pleomorphic, which means it can take on various shapes and sizes. It typically appears as a small, irregularly shaped bacterium. The lack of a rigid cell wall contributes to its pleomorphic nature. The size of M. pneumoniae ranges from 0.2 to 0.8 micrometers, making it one of the smallest known bacteria.
  2. Cell Wall Absence: One of the most significant aspects of Mycoplasma pneumoniae‘s morphology is the absence of a cell wall. Most bacteria have a cell wall that provides structural support and protection, but Mycoplasma pneumoniae lacks this feature. This characteristic gives it unique properties, including resistance to antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis.
  3. Plasma Membrane: Instead of a conventional cell wall, M. pneumoniae is surrounded by a plasma membrane, also known as the cell membrane or cytoplasmic membrane. This thin, flexible membrane plays a crucial role in maintaining the bacterium’s structure and facilitating its interactions with the environment.
  4. Attachment Organelle: Mycoplasma pneumoniae possesses a specialized structure called the attachment organelle or “tip structure.” This organelle is involved in the bacterium’s attachment to host cells, which is essential for its ability to cause infections. The attachment organelle is located at one end of the cell and consists of protein fibers and other components.
  5. Cytoplasm and Nucleoid: Inside the cell membrane, M. pneumoniae contains a cytoplasm that houses its genetic material and various cellular components. The genetic material is organized in a region called the nucleoid, which lacks a nuclear envelope but contains the bacterial chromosome (DNA).
  6. Ribosomes and Organelles: The cytoplasm of Mycoplasma pneumoniae contains ribosomes, the cellular machinery responsible for protein synthesis. The bacterium also contains various organelle-like structures that play roles in its metabolic processes.


Mycoplasma pneumoniae is pathogenic, meaning it has the ability to cause disease in humans. It is primarily responsible for a range of respiratory tract infections, with the most well-known manifestation being atypical pneumonia (also known as walking pneumonia). Here’s an overview of the pathogenicity of M. pneumoniae:

  1. Respiratory Tract Infections: Mycoplasma pneumoniae primarily infects the respiratory tract, including the trachea, bronchi, and lungs. It attaches to the epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, especially in the bronchioles and alveoli, using its specialized attachment organelle. This attachment can lead to inflammation, damage to the respiratory epithelium, and the characteristic symptoms of respiratory infections.
  2. Atypical Pneumoniae: It is a common cause of atypical pneumonia, which is characterized by a milder presentation compared to typical bacterial pneumonia. Symptoms may include a persistent dry cough, sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, and fatigue. Unlike typical pneumonia, where the causative bacteria are often confined to the alveoli, Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections tend to spread to different parts of the respiratory tract, causing a more diffuse infection.
  3. Extrapulmonary Manifestations: Apart from respiratory infections, Mycoplasma pneumoniae has been associated with various extrapulmonary manifestations. These can include skin rashes, joint pain (arthritis), and neurological symptoms such as encephalitis and aseptic meningitis. The exact mechanisms behind these manifestations are not fully understood and may involve immune responses triggered by the infection.
  4. Epidemiology and Transmission: M. pneumoniae infections are most common in crowded settings like schools, colleges, and military barracks, where close person-to-person contact facilitates its spread. The bacterium is transmitted through respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, or talking.
  5. Immune Response and Persistence: It has evolved mechanisms to evade the host immune response. The lack of a cell wall, which is a target for many antibiotics and immune recognition, contributes to its ability to persist within the host. This persistence can lead to recurrent infections and prolonged symptoms.
  6. Diagnosis and Treatment: Diagnosis of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections often involves clinical evaluation, along with laboratory tests such as serological tests (to detect antibodies against the bacterium), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays (to detect bacterial DNA), and cultures. Treatment typically involves antibiotics such as macrolides, tetracyclines, or fluoroquinolones. However, antibiotic resistance has been a growing concern and may impact treatment effectiveness.

Lab Diagnosis

The laboratory diagnosis of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections involves a combination of clinical assessment, serological tests, molecular techniques, and culture methods. Due to the bacterium’s unique characteristics and challenges in cultivation, a multi-pronged approach is often used. Here’s an overview of the methods commonly employed for the lab diagnosis of M. pneumoniae:

  1. Clinical Assessment: Clinical evaluation of the patient’s symptoms and medical history is an important initial step. The characteristic symptoms of atypical pneumonia, such as a persistent dry cough, sore throat, and low-grade fever, can provide valuable clues for diagnosis.
  2. Serological Tests: Serological tests detect antibodies produced by the immune system in response to Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection. These tests are useful for diagnosing both current and past infections. Common serological tests include:
    • IgM Antibody Detection: IgM antibodies are produced early in the course of infection. A rise in IgM antibody levels in paired sera (samples taken during acute and convalescent phases) can indicate recent infection.
    • IgG Antibody Detection: IgG antibodies are produced later and persist longer. Elevated IgG levels, especially when combined with other clinical indicators, can suggest a current or past infection.
  3. Molecular Techniques:
    • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): PCR is a highly sensitive molecular technique used to detect Mycoplasma pneumoniae DNA in respiratory samples such as throat swabs or sputum. PCR can rapidly identify the bacterium’s genetic material and is particularly useful in early stages of infection.
    • Real-Time PCR: Real-time PCR is a variation of PCR that allows for the quantification of the target DNA. It provides information about the bacterial load, aiding in assessing the severity of infection.
  4. Culture Methods: Culturing Mycoplasma pneumoniae can be challenging due to its fastidious growth requirements and slow growth rate. Specialized media and growth conditions are necessary to support its growth. Culture methods are less commonly used due to the availability of quicker diagnostic techniques like PCR. If successful, cultures can be useful for antibiotic susceptibility testing.
  5. Antigen Detection: Enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) targeting specific M. pneumoniae antigens can also be used to detect the presence of the bacterium. These tests are less commonly used than serological tests and molecular techniques.
  6. Immunofluorescence Assays (IFA): IFAs involve using fluorescently labeled antibodies to detect the presence of M. pneumoniae in patient samples. They can provide rapid results and are particularly useful for detecting the bacterium in respiratory specimens.


The treatment of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections typically involves antibiotics, but the choice of antibiotics and treatment approach may vary based on factors such as the severity of the infection, the age of the patient, antibiotic resistance patterns, and any underlying health conditions. Here are the common approaches to treating M. pneumoniae infections:

  1. Macrolides: Macrolide antibiotics such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin are often considered first-line treatment for M. pneumoniae infections. They work by inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis. These antibiotics are effective against Mycoplasma pneumoniae and are often preferred due to their good lung tissue penetration and relatively fewer side effects.
  2. Tetracyclines: Tetracycline antibiotics like doxycycline can also be used to treat M. pneumoniae infections, especially in cases where macrolide resistance is a concern. Tetracyclines work by inhibiting protein synthesis in bacteria. However, tetracyclines are generally not recommended for use in children under 8 years of age due to potential effects on tooth development.
  3. Fluoroquinolones: Fluoroquinolone antibiotics such as levofloxacin and moxifloxacin are considered alternative treatment options, especially in cases of severe infections or when other antibiotics are ineffective. Fluoroquinolones inhibit DNA synthesis in bacteria. They are reserved for cases where other options have failed due to concerns about potential side effects and development of antibiotic resistance.
  4. Supportive Care: In addition to antibiotics, supportive care is essential for managing Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections. This includes rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to manage fever and alleviate symptoms such as cough and sore throat.
  5. Duration of Treatment: The duration of antibiotic treatment can vary. Typically, treatment lasts for about 7 to 14 days, depending on the severity of the infection and the response to treatment. It’s important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by the healthcare provider, even if symptoms improve before the course is completed.
  6. Antibiotic Resistance: Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern with Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections. It’s important for healthcare providers to consider local antibiotic resistance patterns when choosing the appropriate treatment. If there is concern about antibiotic resistance, a discussion with an infectious disease specialist may be beneficial.

It’s important to note that self-medication and inappropriate antibiotic use can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of M. pneumoniae. Therefore, it’s essential to seek medical attention if you suspect a respiratory infection and follow the guidance of a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Preventing Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections involves a combination of hygiene practices, awareness, and sometimes vaccination. Since M. pneumoniae is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets and close person-to-person contact, following these preventive measures can help reduce the risk of infection:

  1. Practice Good Respiratory Hygiene:
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
    • Dispose of used tissues immediately and wash your hands afterward.
    • Encourage others around you to do the same.
  2. Frequent Handwashing:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or being in crowded places.
    • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  3. Avoid Close Contact:
    • Avoid close contact with individuals who have respiratory infections, especially if they have symptoms like coughing and sneezing.
    • If you are sick, try to minimize contact with others to prevent spreading the infection.
  4. Promote Respiratory Etiquette:
    • Educate others about the importance of covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of respiratory infections.
  5. Maintain Good Hygiene Practices:
    • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, with unwashed hands.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces regularly, especially in shared spaces.
  6. Vaccination (if available):
    • As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, there is no widely available vaccine specifically targeting Mycoplasma pneumoniae. However, research and development in this area could lead to the development of vaccines in the future.
  7. Travel Precautions:
    • If you’re traveling to areas where Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections are more common, practice good hygiene and respiratory precautions to minimize your risk of exposure.
  8. Stay Informed:
    • Stay informed about local outbreaks or increases in respiratory infections. Following public health guidelines and recommendations can help you stay protected.


here are some key points to remember about M. pneumoniae:

  1. Unique Bacterium: M. pneumoniae is a type of bacteria that lacks a cell wall, making it resistant to many antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis.
  2. Respiratory Infections: It primarily infects the respiratory tract, causing conditions like atypical or walking pneumonia. It is a common cause of respiratory infections in all age groups.
  3. Clinical Presentation: Symptoms of M. pneumoniae infection include a persistent dry cough, sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, and fatigue. The infection often presents as a milder form of pneumonia.
  4. Pleomorphic Shape: The bacterium has a variable shape and size due to the absence of a rigid cell wall. It can take on various irregular forms.
  5. Attachment Organelle: M. pneumoniae has a unique attachment organelle or “tip structure” that facilitates its attachment to host cells in the respiratory tract.
  6. Transmission: It spreads through respiratory droplets, making close person-to-person contact a common mode of transmission, especially in crowded environments.
  7. Laboratory Diagnosis: Diagnosis involves a combination of clinical assessment, serological tests to detect antibodies, molecular techniques like PCR to detect DNA, and culture methods.
  8. Treatment: Antibiotics such as macrolides (azithromycin, clarithromycin), tetracyclines (doxycycline), or fluoroquinolones (levofloxacin) are commonly used for treatment. The choice depends on factors like severity and antibiotic resistance.
  9. Prevention: Preventive measures include good respiratory hygiene, frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with infected individuals, and promoting awareness of respiratory etiquette.
  10. Vaccination: As of my last update in September 2021, there is no widely available vaccine for Mycoplasma pneumoniae, but research in this area continues.
  11. Antibiotic Resistance: Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, highlighting the importance of proper diagnosis, appropriate antibiotic use, and ongoing research.
  12. Extrapulmonary Manifestations: M. pneumoniae has been associated with other symptoms like skin rashes, joint pain, and neurological symptoms.

Further Readings

  1. Medical Journals and Articles:
    • Check medical journals like “Clinical Microbiology Reviews,” “Journal of Clinical Microbiology,” and “Clinical Infectious Diseases” for articles related to Mycoplasma pneumoniae. These journals often provide detailed insights into the latest research, clinical cases, and treatment options.
  2. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
    • The CDC website offers information on various infectious diseases, including Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It provides details about symptoms, transmission, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies.
  3. PubMed:
    • Search for “Mycoplasma pneumoniae” on PubMed, a comprehensive database of biomedical literature. You’ll find a wide range of research articles, reviews, and case studies related to the bacterium.
  4. Medical Textbooks:
    • Medical textbooks on microbiology, infectious diseases, and respiratory medicine often include chapters dedicated to Mycoplasma pneumoniae. These textbooks can provide in-depth information on its clinical aspects, diagnosis, and treatment.
  5. University Medical Websites:
    • Websites of reputable medical universities often have educational resources and articles related to various diseases, including Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Look for resources from universities with strong medical and microbiology departments.
  6. Infectious Disease Organizations:
    • Organizations like the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) may offer resources, guidelines, and publications related to Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
  7. Online Medical Databases:
    • Databases like UpToDate and DynaMed provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on various medical topics, including Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections.
  8. Clinical Guidelines:
    • Look for clinical practice guidelines related to Mycoplasma pneumoniae from reputable medical organizations. These guidelines often provide evidence-based recommendations for diagnosis and treatment.

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