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German researchers make significant strides in identifying cause of bacterial infections

Several bacterial pathogens use toxins to manipulate human host cells, ultimately disturbing cellular signal transduction. Until now, however, scientists have been able to track down only a few of the proteins that interact with bacterial toxins in infected human cells.

Now, researchers of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch in Germany have identified 39 interaction partners of these toxins, using novel technology which allowed them to screen for large numbers of proteins simultaneously (Cell Host & Microbe, Vol. 5, Issue 4, 397-403)*.

Many bacteria inject toxins into human cells using a secretion system that resembles a molecular syringe. Within the host cell, some of these toxins are activated in such a way that they can manipulate important cellular signaling pathways. In healthy cells, these signals serve to regulate metabolism or cell division, among other things. By manipulating the signals, bacteria can abuse the cell machinery of the human host in order to spread and survive.

Applying a method developed by Professor Matthias Mann of the MPI, the scientists succeeded for the first time in systematically investigating the cellular target sites of the bacterial toxins. "Surprisingly, the toxins are not optimally adapted to the structures of human proteins," Dr. Matthias Selbach of MDC explained. While binding relatively weakly to individual human proteins, they are able to influence several different proteins simultaneously. "A single bacterial toxin seems to function like a master key that can access different host cell proteins in parallel", Dr. Selbach said. "Perhaps it is due to this strategy that bacteria are able to attack very different cells and, thus, to increase their survival chances in the host."

Dr. Selbach hopes that these basic research findings will help to improve the treatment of bacterial infections in the future. Instead of nonspecific antibiotic therapy, new drugs could target the signaling mechanisms which are disrupted by the bacterial toxins.

*Host cell interactome of tyrosine-phosphorylated bacterial proteins

Matthias Selbach1,2, Florian Ernst Paul2, Sabine Brandt3, Patrick Guye4, Oliver Daumke2, Steffen Backert5, Christoph Dehio4, Matthias Mann1

1Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Dept. of Proteomics and Signal Transduction, Am Klopferspitz 18, D-82152 Martinsried, Germany
2Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle-Str. 10, D-13092 Berlin, Germany
3Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Institute for Medical Microbiology, Leipziger Str. 44, D-39120 Magdeburg, Germany
4Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Focal Area Infection Biology, Klingelbergstrasse 70, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland

5University College Dublin, School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, Ardmore House, Dublin-4, Ireland

Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10
13125 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33

Barbara Bachtler | EurekAlert!
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