Scientists discover how bacteria Y. pestis overwhelms the lungs to cause pneumonic plague
Northwestern Medicine scientists are continuing to unravel the molecular changes that underlie one of the world's deadliest and most infamous respiratory infections.
When the bacterium Yersinia pestis enters the lungs, it causes pneumonic plague, a disease that is 100 percent fatal if untreated. The way in which Y. pestis evades the immune system and kills people in a matter of days has largely confounded scientists, until now.
Following a 2007 study demonstrating that the presence of a protein called the plasminogen activator protease (Pla) is required for Y. pestis to live inside the lungs, Wyndham Lathem, PhD, assistant professor in Microbiology-Immunology, has found what role Pla plays during disease.
The activator shuts down a molecule, Fas ligand (FasL), which stimulates a form of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. The result is a disrupted immune response during infection. This allows Y. pestis to overwhelm the lungs, causing death.
"This is the first time anyone has shown how bacteria can subvert apoptotic cell death by directly destroying Fas ligand," said Lathem, a member of the Center for Genetic Medicine and Interdepartmental Immunobiology Center.
The findings were published April 9 in Cell Host & Microbe.
To study its effects, scientists added Pla to glass slides with various fluorescently-tagged proteins. If the protease showed an affinity for a specific protein, it would chew off pieces, making it appear less florescent when viewed under a microscope.
"We knew that Pla must be chopping up host proteins in some manner and we looked to discover exactly what proteins were being affected," said first author Adam Caulfield, a research associate in Lathem's lab.
"As we reviewed possible hits, the 'aha moment' came when we saw Fas ligand on the list of affected proteins, because we know Fas is an integral receptor for controlling cell death," said Lathem. "The process of Pla degrading Fas ligand effectively prevents the lungs from being able to clear the infection."
After verifying their findings using cell cultures, Lathem conducted preclinical tests using mice, arriving at the same conclusion.
"Now that we have identified this as a method by which plague bacteria can manipulate the immune system, we have something to look for when studying other respiratory infections," Lathem said. "This could be a common feature, where we see other bacteria manipulating cell death pathways by altering Fas signaling."
Pneumonic plague is unique in that it is the only type of plague with an ability to spread from person to person. It is treatable if caught early, but after 24 hours, antibiotics are rendered useless.
Lathem believes that a restoration of Fas signaling may give antibiotics more time to work, and scientists in his lab are exploring that possibility. They will also be looking at different bacterial infections to see if any manipulate cell death by altering Fas signaling in a similar manner.
The work was supported by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at National Institutes of Health grants T32 AI007476 and R01 AI093727.
Marla Paul | Eurek Alert!
Ambush in a petri dish
24.11.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Meadows beat out shrubs when it comes to storing carbon
23.11.2017 | Norwegian University of Science and Technology
High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons
The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...
Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
24.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
24.11.2017 | Earth Sciences