DALLAS July 29, 2013 A seafood contaminant that thrives in brackish water during the summer works like a spy to infiltrate cells and quickly open communication channels to sicken the host, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center report.
Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria, which cause gastroenteritis, inject proteins called effectors into host cells. One of those effectors, VopQ, almost immediately starts to disrupt the important process of autophagy via a novel channel-forming mechanism, the scientists report in the investigation available online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Autophagy is the cellular housekeeping mechanism used to recycle nutrients in cells as well as to fight off pathogens. The term autophagy comes from the Greek words for self and eating. During the process, nutrients are recycled by the lysosome, an internal organelle, to produce metabolites that can be used by the cell.
"Our study identifies a bacterial effector that creates gated ion channels and reveals a novel mechanism that may regulate autophagy," said Dr. Kim Orth, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. She is a corresponding author on the published study. The first author is Anju Sreelatha, a graduate student in Dr. Orth's laboratory.
"Disruptions of autophagic pathways are implicated in many human diseases, including neurodegenerative disease, liver disease, some cancers, and cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease)," Ms. Sreelatha said.
She explained that ion channels are pores in the membranes of cells or of organelles within cells that allow regulated passage of small molecules or ions across membranes. Gated channels have a mechanism that opens and closes them, making these proteins potential targets for drug development.
"The identification of a channel that opens and closes and thereby affects autophagy may give us a handle by which to modulate this important process," she said,
|Contact: Deborah Wormser|
UT Southwestern Medical Center