"We have found a new weapon in a bacteria's armoury that enables them to spread effectively in the body by converting infected cells to stem cells. Greater understanding of how this occurs could help research to diagnose bacterial infectious diseases, such as leprosy, much earlier."
The study, carried out in Professor Rambukkana's laboratories at the University of Edinburgh and the Rockefeller University, was funded by the US National Institutes of Health.
It showed that when an infected Schwann cell was reprogrammed to become like a stem cell, it lost the function of Schwann cells to protect nerve cells, which transmit signals to the brain. This led to nerves becoming damaged.
Professor Rambukkana added: "This is very intriguing as it is the first time that we have seen that functional adult tissue cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells by natural bacterial infection, which also does not carry the risk of creating tumorous cells.
"Potentially you could use the bacteria to change the flexibility of cells, turning them into stem cells and then use the standard antibiotics to kill the bacteria completely so that the cells could then be transplanted safely to tissue that has been damaged by degenerative disease."
Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at the MRC, added: "This ground-breaking new research shows that bacteria are able to sneak under the radar of the immune system by hijacking a naturally occurring mechanism to 'reprogramme' cells to make them look and behave like stem cells. This discovery is important not just for our understanding and treatment of bacterial disease, but for the rapidly progressing field of regenerative medicine. In future, this knowledge may help scientists to improve the safety and utility of lab-produced pluripotent stem cells and help drive the development of new rege
|Contact: Tara Womersley|
University of Edinburgh