The discovery of this pathway, published in the September 22 issue of the journal Cell, advances our understanding of how cells mount a survival response when attacked by bacteria and parasites and also gives insight into the more general process of cell membrane biogenesis.
Bacteria and parasites often use special toxins to perforate the membranes of target cells. These pore-forming toxins are a key weapon in the attack arsenal of some common and virulent bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, well-known for its role in hospital-acquired infections, Streptococcus pneumonie, responsible for middle ear infections and pneumonia, and Helicobacter pylori, implicated in ulcers. Pore-forming toxins compose about a quarter of all known protein toxins that increase the infectivity and severity of bacterial diseases.
Once the toxin perforates the host membrane, ions begin to leak out of the cell. Sensing a drop in its potassium concentration, the cell reacts by forming a multi-protein complex known as an inflammasome. Scientists know that inflammasomes act like a sort of roving security force inside the cell, detecting a variety of danger signals such as bacterial RNA or bits of bacterial flagellin. The inflammasomes join together and activate a protein, caspase-1, that in turn triggers an inflammatory response.
Van der Goot and her colleagues found that in addition to its normal role as a signal for inflammatory response, caspase-1 also triggers the cell’s central regulators for membrane synthesis, launching a bout of lipid metabolism. This previously undetected part of the response pathway has important implications for cell survival.
The Swiss team studied the pathway by using RNA interference to silence genes involved. Interrupting the pathway at any point, either by silencing the genes responsible for the inflammasome formation or the gene for caspase-1, resulted in increased cell death.
“We don’t yet know the details of the mechanism by which lipid metabolism leads to cell survival,” she says. The lipids are probably used to repair the cell membrane, stopping the potassium leak, which itself can kill the cell, and also protecting the cell from additional toxic substances lurking outside.
“This result is important, because it also explains so much in terms of basic cell physiology,” notes Van der Goot. If a cell absorbs too much water, for example, this pathway would be triggered. The lipids formed in the metabolic pathway would enable the cell to enlarge its membrane to accommodate the extra water.
“Toxins have co-evolved with their hosts for a long time,” says Van der Goot. “That makes them good tools with which to study normal cell physiology. This study is a case in point – using a toxin, we have the first step in an understanding of how cells can regulate their membranes in order to maintain a particular ion concentration.”
The research focused on epithelial cells, the cells that line the gut and blood vessels. Van der Goot explains that because they form a protective layer, it’s critical for the organism that these cells survive, even if they don’t function correctly. If the cell dies, it leaves the underlying tissue exposed. She hypothesizes that the toxin response pathway may be different for other types of cells. Immune cells, for example, may be better off committing suicide if their membranes are penetrated, because they could become deadly if their function is compromised.
Van der Goot adds that a better understanding of the biochemical pathway that allows epithelial cells to survive an invasion by a pore-forming toxin will prove valuable as biomedical researchers try to develop drugs to fight antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that use these toxins as part of their hijacking strategy.
Gisou Van der Goot is a leading professor in EPFL’s newly formed Global Health Institute, a multidisciplinary initiative that brings researchers from biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering and medicine together to work on the major infectious threats of our time, at the level of prevention, diagnostics and therapeutics. She is a Howard Hughes International Research Scholar.
Mary Parlange | alfa
Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University
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...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
22.11.2017 | Business and Finance
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy