These proteins, called perforins, are related to bacterial toxins that cause diseases such as anthrax, gas gangrene and scarlet fever. The discovery was made by a team led by Professor James Whisstock and Dr Michelle Dunstone from Monash University’s School of Biomedical Sciences.
Professor Whisstock, winner of the 2006 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, said the team was stunned when it became clear that the bacterial toxins and perforins had a common ancestor.
“Over millions of years of evolution bacteria developed these proteins as weapons of attack,” he said. “But animals have evolved these proteins for defence against that attack. It’s a molecular arms race and there’s still no clear winner.”
Professor Whisstock said perforins were so-called because they kill bacteria, virally-infected cells and cancerous cells by punching tiny holes that perforate them. “People who lack one of these perforins can develop a serious blood disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and may be predisposed to develop cancer,” he said.
“Perforins are also dangerous molecules. They can create absolute havoc in the immune system if they’re not controlled properly. By understanding how they work we can find ways to control them in infectious diseases and areas such as transplantation rejection.”
Using X-ray crystallography, the team worked out the structure of a perforin called Plu-MACPF, which, due to its similarity to the bacterial toxins, told them how the whole perforin family worked. Their findings are published today in the international journal Science.
Dr Dunstone said the findings were the culmination of nine years of research. “Now we finally know what perforins look like and how they work, we can use this knowledge to develop new ways to fight disease,” she said.
Professor Whisstock said certain perforins were not only important for defending humans against attack by bacteria and viruses, but also important for propagating the human species because of their role in embryo implantation. “It is ironic that we fear diseases such as anthrax yet from the same family of toxins comes a protein that is involved in reproduction,” he said.
The research team included scientists from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s protease systems biology program, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. The X-ray data was collected at the Advanced Photon Source in Chicago.
Prof James Whisstock | EurekAlert!
Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences
Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University
Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...
On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...
The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...
At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.
When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...
At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.
Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
08.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences
16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
16.03.2018 | Life Sciences