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Research shows how pathogenic bacteria hide inside host cells
Date:1/26/2011

A new study into Staphylococcus aureus, the bacterium which is responsible for severe chronic infections worldwide, reveals how bacteria have developed a strategy of hiding within host cells to escape the immune system as well as many antibacterial treatments. The research, published by EMBO Molecular Medicine, demonstrates how 'phenotype switching' enables bacteria to adapt to their environmental conditions, lie dormant inside host cells and become a reservoir for relapsing infections.

Staphylococcus aureus is a major human pathogen which can be carried by up to 70% of healthy people, and can lead to conditions such as deep tissue infections, osteomyelitis, and chronic lung infections, which are often hard to treat with antibiotics. A key characteristic of these infections is that relapses can occur months or years after an apparent cure.

These relapses, Dr. Bettina Lffler and her team from the Institut fr Medizinische Mikrobiologie in Mnster, Germany, believe are due to phenotype switching, a change in the bacterial behaviour. After infection and invasion of the patient's host cells, the bacteria form small colony variants (SCVs), tiny bacterial subpopulations that can evade the immune system as well as many antibiotics and grow slowly.

"For the microbiologist, it is difficult to detect SCVs in clinical specimens as they grow slowly, often needing several days to form and so can be easily overlooked in diagnosis," said Lffler. "Our study asked two questions: Is the development of SCVs an integral part of the infection process and what are the dynamics of SCV formation?"

The team performed long-term infection studies with Staphylococcus aureus in cell culture systems and also analysed tissue samples from subacute and chronic human infections.

The research revealed that in all infection models, the bacteria were able to persist within the host for several weeks after the infection, l
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Contact: Ben Norman
Lifesciencenews@wiley.com
44-012-437-70375
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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