In 1907, the US-American pathologist George Hoyt Whipple (Biography) reported “a hitherto undescribed disease characterized anatomically by deposits of fat and fatty acids in the
intestinal and mesenteric lymphatic tissues”. ( 1 ) He interpreted
his autopsy findings as intestinal lipodystrophy.
In 1949, a newly developed histochemical stain was first applied to tissue from a patient with the disease. The
positive reaction with Periodic Acid Schiff´s reagent (PAS) revealed that the foamy macrophages, which were described previously by Whipple, did in fact contain a glycoprotein material but not lipids. ( 2 )
1960/1961, when electron microscopy entered into medicine, the PAS positive material in the cytoplasm of macrophages was identified as rod-shaped bacteria. ( 3, 4 , 5 ) Since, Whipple´s disease is considered to be an
infective disorder which can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
In 1963 and 1970, autopsy findings (in untreated patients) and clinical observations (in untreated or treated patients) illustrated that
infection with the gram-positive Whipple´s disease bacterium is frequently not limited to the small intestine and its lymph nodes, and may also affect any other organs. ( 6, 7 ) Thus, Whipple´s disease is a
In 1991 and 1992, with the advent of molecular methods, the then still uncultured bacterium of Whipple´s disease was eventually characterized as a new and peculiar species within the bacterial
family of actinomycetes. ( 8, 9 ) A new name was proposed, Tropheryma whippelii. ( 9 ) T
his name is widely used, but was modified by some to Tropheryma whipplei.
in 2000, the first successful in-vitro cultivation was done supported by human fibroblasts. (10)
Since 2003, the complete bacterial genome is sequenced and analyzed. ( 11, 12 )