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Molecule aids fight E. Coli Infections

macrophages, said Ezekowitz, who has devoted the past eight years to the research.

Using a cutting-edge technique that allowed them to turn off specific genes, Ezekowitz and his team identified 36 macrophage proteins essential to the phagocytosis process. One, called PGRP-LC, is a cell surface receptor that sits on the outer membrane and receives chemical signals. When the scientists deactivated PGRP-LC, the macrophages lost their ability to detect and devour the E. coli microbes -- but not another type of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which also can cause food poisoning.

This pointed to the protein's essential role in enabling the macrophages to react specifically to so-called gram-negative bacteria since S. aureus is of the gram-positive variety. To test this view, team member Pascal Mantruelli genetically engineered a group of Drosophila with a mutated version of PGRP-LC. Indeed, these flies were much more susceptible to E. coli infection than were their normal counterparts, the researchers observed.

"The next question to ask is whether this protein plays a related role in humans. Understanding the role these proteins play could eventually lead to new ways of fighting infection and to helping us figure out why some people are more susceptible to specific infections."

"I think the importance of this paper is they've been able to solve how the fruitfly responds to the E. coli bacteria and to show the role of a specific molecule," Charles Hackett, chief of the Molecular and Structural Immunology Section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Md., said in a telephone interview. "The importance for immunology in general is that humans have a molecule similar to the one they found in the fly. This will no doubt help us understand the function of the human molecule."

Although there are similarities between the human and fruitfly defense systems, "somehow too many inves
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