Tag: bacteria

How Shigella Bacteria Hijacks Cells

Shigella bacteria Credit: S Bhimji, MD

Shigella, a bacterial pathogen that causes dysentery and is the leading cause of childhood diarrhoeal diseases, inserts a pore called a translocon into an infected person’s intestinal cells and then injects bacterial proteins into the cells. Once inside, the proteins hijack the cellular machinery to help Shigella multiply. In a study published in mBio, researchers report important details about Shigella’s translocon, which may help researchers develop an effective strategy to block this critical component of infection.

“Shigella infects our gut by manipulating our intestinal cells and tricking them into letting the Shigella inside. In fact, there are many bacterial pathogens that use this same, or similar, mechanism to infect us,” said lead author Poyin Chen, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at MGH. “This translocon pore is essentially the gateway through which bacterial proteins get pumped into our cells. We know that this structure is made of two proteins – IpaB and IpaC – but what we don’t know is how these proteins fit together to make this pore.”

Using protein mapping techniques to look closely at translocons when they were embedded in cell membranes, the researchers were able to see that ipaB makes up the inner ring of the pore. “If you think of the translocon pore as a donut, this would be the walls of the donut hole. This finding is important because this is the part of the translocon pore that directly interacts with bacterial proteins as they are injected into our cells,” Dr Chen explained. “With the findings from this study, we can begin to understand if this pore acts as a slippery tube that bacterial proteins travel through or if the translocon pore can control the flow of bacterial proteins into our cells.”

Such details may help investigators target the translocon and block the entry of Shigella proteins into cells. “For something that is so essential to establishing infection, we know terribly little of how it’s made and how it works,” said Dr Chen. “As we gain a better understanding of its parts, we will be able to approach the structure as a whole and maybe even find ways to neutralise the function of this structure to prevent infection before it can begin.”

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

Disarming a Common Pathogenic Bacterium

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. Source: Public Health Imagery Library

Scientists have discovered a gene regulator in a common pathogenic bacterium that can be exploited to drastically reduce its virulence.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a gram-negative, aerobic, opportunistic, pathogenic bacterium found in a variety of ecological niches, such as plant roots, stagnant water or even plumbing. Naturally extremely versatile, it can cause acute and chronic infections that are potentially fatal for immunocompromised hosts. P. aeruginosa poses a serious threat in clinical settings, where it can colonise respirators and catheters. Additionally, its adaptability and resistance to many antibiotics make P. aeruginosa infections steadily more difficult to treat. Therefore new antibacterials are urgently needed. 

Scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in Switzerland have identified a previously unknown regulator of gene expression in this bacterium, without which the infectious power of P. aeruginosa is diminished. This discovery may unlock new developmental pathways to treat this bacteria.

RNA helicases perform essential regulatory functions by binding and unwinding various RNA molecules to perform their functions. RNA helicases are present in the genomes of almost all known living organisms, including bacteria, yeast, plants, and humans; however, they have acquired specific properties depending on the organism in which they are found. “Pseudomonas aeruginosa has an RNA helicase whose function was unknown, but which was found in other pathogens”, explained Martina Valentini,  a researcher leading this research in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine. “We wanted to understand what its role was, in particular in relation to the pathogenesis of the bacteria and their environmental adaptation.”

A severely reduced virulence

To accomplish this, the researchers took a combined biochemical and molecular genetic approach. “In the absence of this RNA helicase, P. aeruginosa multiplies normally in vitro, both in a liquid medium and on a semi-solid medium at 37°C”, reported Stéphane Hausmann, a researcher associate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and first author of this study. “To determine whether the infection capacity of the bacteria was affected, we had to observe it in vivo in a living organism.”

The scientists then continued their research using Galleria mellonella larvae, a model insect for studying host-pathogen interactions.These larvae can live at temperatures between 5°C and 45°C, which makes it possible to study bacterial growth at different temperatures, including that of the human body. Three groups of larvae were observed, including a control group injected with saline. In the presence of a normal strain of P. aeruginosa, less than 20% survived at 20 hours after infection. In contrast, when P. aeruginosa lacked the RNA helicase gene, over 90% of the larvae remained alive. “The modified bacteria became almost harmless, while remaining very much alive,” says Stéphane Hausmann.

Inhibiting instead of killing

The findings demonstrated that the regulator affects production of several virulence factors in the bacteria. “In fact, this protein controls the degradation of numerous messenger RNAs coding for virulence factors”, summarised Martina Valentini. “From an antimicrobial drug strategy point of view, switching off the pathogen’s virulence factors rather than trying to eliminate the pathogen completely, means allowing the host immune system to naturally neutralise the bacterium and potentially reduces the risk for the development of resistance. Indeed, if we try to kill the bacteria at all costs, the bacteria will adapt to survive, which favours the appearance of resistant strains.”

The Geneva team is continuing its investigations by screening drug molecules to see if any of them can selectively block this protein, and also performing a detailed study in detail on the inhibition mechanisms on which could be based the development of an effective therapeutic strategy.

Source: University of Geneva

Journal reference: Hausmann, S., et al. (2021) The DEAD-box RNA helicase RhlE2 is a global regulator of Pseudomonas aeruginosa lifestyle and pathogenesis. Nucleic Acid Research. doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkab503.

How Legionnaire’s Disease Digs In

A bunker from World War II, emulating how Legionella makes a protective shelter. Image by herb1979 from Pixabay

Scientists have discovered how the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease digs in and makes a tiny shelter inside the cells of humans and other hosts. 

The findings, published in Science, could offer insights into how other bacteria are able to survive inside cells, knowledge that could lead to new treatments for a wide variety of infections.

Discovered in 1976, Legionella, an aerobic gram-negative bacillus is responsible for Legionnaires’ disease, a condition of severe pneumonia. Spread through aerosolised water particles, it is a common cause of hospital and community-acquired pneumonia.

“Many infectious bacteria, from listeria to chlamydia to salmonella, use systems that allow them to dwell within their host’s cells,” explained study leader Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular biology at UTSW and member of the Harold C Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Better understanding the tools they use to make this happen is teaching us some interesting biochemistry and could eventually lead to new targets for therapy.”

Dr Tagliabracci’s lab studies atypical kinases, unusual forms of enzymes that put phosphates onto proteins or lipids, changing their function. Legionella is a particularly rich source of these noncanonical kinases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the US in 2018, though the true incidence is believed to be higher.      

After identifying a new Legionella atypical kinase named MavQ, Dr Tagliabracci and colleagues used a live-cell imaging technique in concert with a relatively new molecular tagging method to see where MavQ is found in infected human cells. However, rather than residing in a specific location, the researchers were surprised to see that the protein moved back and forth between the endoplasmic reticulum – a network of membranes important for protein and lipid synthesis – and bubble- or tube-shaped structures within the cell.

Further research suggests that MavQ, along with a partner molecule called SidP, remodels the endoplasmic reticulum so that Legionella can strip off sections of the membrane to help create and sustain the vacuole, a structure that the parasitic bacteria uses to shelter inside cells, protecting it from immune attack.

Dr Tagliabracci said that he suspects other bacterial pathogens may use similar mechanisms to co-opt existing host cell structures to create their own protective shelters. 

 Source: University of Texas

Journal information: Ting-Sung Hsieh, et al. Dynamic remodeling of host membranes by self-organizing bacterial effectors. Science, 2021; eaay8118 DOI: 10.1126/science.aay8118

Antifungal Compound Discovered in Ant Farms

Researchers in Brazil have discovered an antifungal compound by bacteria living in ant farms, which may have medical applications.

In the fungal farms where attine ants tend as their food source, Pseudonocardia and Streptomyces bacteria produce metabolites which shield the crop against pathogens. Curiously, these metabolites vary across geographic locations.

Attine ants are a type of ant which grow and harvest fungus for food, and are only found in the Western Hemisphere. They first evolved from a common Amazonian ancestor some 50 million years ago, giving rise to some 200 species of ants spread across South and Central America, which share common farming practices. The bacteria at these farms have a symbiotic relationship where they defend against fungi such as Escovopsis in exchange for food.

These metabolites vary considerably, suggesting a fragmented history. Searching a number of ant nests spread across a large geographical area, the researchers discovered that two thirds of the Pseudonocardia strains were producing the same metabolite. They named this newly discovered metabolite attinimicin.The study was the first one where a common, specialised metabolite produced by ant-associated bacteria was found across geographic locations.

Attinimicin inhibited fungal parasites while not harming the fungal crop, but only in the presence of iron. It proved as effective in treating Candida albicans infections in mice as a clinically used azole-containing antifungal. This means that the metabolite could have clinical applications. Attinimicin was shown to have a similar structure to two other metabolites produced by Streptomyces, suggesting the responsible genes have a common evolutionary origin.

Source: News-Medical.Net

Journal information: Fukuda, T.T.H., et al. (2021) Specialized Metabolites Reveal Evolutionary History and Geographic Dispersion of a Multilateral Symbiosis. ACS Central Science. doi.org/10.1021/acscentsci.0c00978.