May 19, 2009

Meningococcal bacteria mechanism is found

British medical scientists say they have discovered how meningococcal bacteria break through the body's natural defense system to attack the brain.

University of Nottingham researchers said their discovery could lead to better treatment and vaccines.

The scientists said it can take just hours after symptoms appear for someone to die from bacterial meningitis, which in childhood is nearly exclusively caused by the respiratory tract pathogens Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae.

The mechanism used by those lethal bacteria to break through the blood brain barrier has been unknown.

But a team led by Professor Dlawer Ala'Aldeen discovered all three pathogens target the same receptor on human cerebrovascular endothelial cells -- the specialized filtering system that protects the brain from disease -- enabling the organisms to cross the blood-brain barrier.

That finding suggests disruption or modulation of the interaction of bacterial adhesins with the receptor might offer broad protection against bacterial meningitis and provide a therapeutic target for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

The research, conducted in collaboration with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in the United States, appears in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.