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!
Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines
20.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik
Researchers find social cultures in chimpanzees
20.11.2018 | Universität Leipzig
Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.
Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy