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Scientists Discover How a Bacterial Pathogen Breaks Down Barriers to Enter and Infect Cells
Date:3/7/2012

athogen is non-opportunistic or "epidemic" and causes more invasive and aggressive infections such as occur in epidemic conjunctivitis caused by the strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae used in this study. These disease-causing bacteria enter the body even when there is no apparent injury to the protective layer. And, they can cause rapidly expanding and contagious diseases.

Until the current PLoS ONE study, little has been known about how epidemic infection causing bacteria are able to cross through the mucin barrier. Experts in the study of mucins and determined to find a piece of this puzzle, the Schepens scientists hypothesized that  "epidemic" bacteria must somehow remove the mucins themselves. 

To test their hypothesis, the team grew "epidemic" conjunctivitis bacteria (a strain of streptococcus pneumoniae) in a culture. This bacteria causes an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane covering the white of the eyes and the inner side of the eyelids.

They then applied the fluid that the bacteria were cultured in to cell lines that mimicked the eye's surface, including presence of intact mucins, and found that the membrane-anchored mucins were cut off and released from the surface of the cells. Removal of the mucins allowed the bacteria to enter the cells.

Using mass spectrometry, the researchers were then able to identify the enzyme, ZmpC, as the culprit. They confirmed their findings by knocking out the gene in the bacteria that produced this enzyme and demonstrated that the bacterium could no longer remove the mucins from the membrane.

According to Dr. Gipson, "This discovery is a major breakthrough in this long unsolved puzzle about how 'epidemic' bacteria enter the body and has given us a new target for drugs that could even be used preventatively."

The next step in the research, according to Dr. Gipson, will be to determine if the method of enzymatically removing th
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SOURCE Schepens Eye Research Institute
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