Using the evolving science of proteomics - which is the large-scale, high-throughput study of proteins and their functions - researchers identified a plethora of proteins that reside in a space in the gonorrhea bacteria, an "envelope" and its small outpouchings, or membrane vesicles.
This cell envelope shields the interior of gonorrhea from the environment and is essential for survival of the microbes, as well as their ability to cause disease. The proteins localized there help acquire nutrients, provide a permeability barrier, suppress the immune response and keep the bacteria fit.
Other proteins on the bacteria surface also help it attach to the host. The membrane vesicles are spherical structures that contain proteins and DNA, and are involved in antibiotic resistance, microbe communication and delivery of factors important for infection.
Any or all of these proteins may now offer a way to attack the survival and spread of the gonorrhea bacteria, Sikora said. None of them have yet been used for that purpose.
"Some past approaches to create a gonorrhea vaccine failed because they were focused on proteins essential to infection, which were quite unstable," she said. "Because they were changing so constantly they were unsuitable for a vaccine. The proteins we've now identified offer a much more stable and vulnerable target."
Researchers have already quantified their abundance of these cell envelope proteins and are learning their basic function, and in continued studies will screen compounds for activity against some of them.
"With this information, the chance to create either a vaccine or new drug treatments is very promising," Sikora said.
The gonorrhea bacteria, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is a pathogen specific
|Contact: Aleksandra Sikora|
Oregon State University