Researchers have identified a protein that drives the virulence of the bacteria causing gonorrhea, opening the possibility of a new target for antibiotics and, even better, a vaccine.
The findings, published Friday in PLOS Pathogens, and copied to the Ghana news agency, are particularly important as the microbe, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, because of its resistance to all classes of antibiotics used to treat infections available as "Superbug".
Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease that causes 78 million new cases worldwide each year, is very harmful if left untreated or mistreated.
It can lead to endometritis, adnexitis, ectopic pregnancy, epididymitis and infertility. Babies born from infected mothers are at an increased risk for blindness.
"Infections are often silent," said Aleksandra Sikora of Oregon State University.
"Up to 50 percent of infected women have no symptoms, but these asymptomatic cases can still lead to some serious consequences for the patient's reproductive health, miscarriage or premature delivery."
The Need for Better Antibiotic Therapy and of a vaccine. N. gonorrhoeae strains that are resistant to the latest effective treatment options have emerged and treatment failures occur.
Dr. Sikora and her research team at the OSU / OHSU College of Pharmacy and Ann Jerse's lab at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, collaborated to discover a new lipoprotein that uses N. gonorrhoeae to defeat the body's innate immune system's first line.
It said that the body relies on enzymes called lysozyme, which, as the name implies, thwart bacteria through their cell wall, or break it up.
Lysozymes are abundant in epithelial cells, which form the tissue on the outside of organs and in the interior of body cavities, and in the phagocytic cells, which protect the body from ingesting foreign particles and bacteria.
In return, many Gram-negative bacteria ̵
Now that new targets have been identified, they have been explored as bullseye candidates for new antibiotics or a vaccine – if the lysozyme inhibitor itself could be inhibited, the bacteria's ability to cause infections will be greatly reduced.
Dr. Sikora and her team called the new protein SliC, an abbreviation for surface-exposed lysozyme lysozyme inhibitor of c-type lysozyme.
Investigating the function of SliC in culture as well as in a gonorrhea mouse model – mice were infected with N. gonorrhoeae and then checked for SliC expression at one, three and five days – the researchers determined that the protein was highly susceptible to Anti-lysozyme essential for bacterial colonization was role
"This is the first time that an animal model has been used to demonstrate the role of a lysozyme inhibitor in gonorrhea infection," said Dr. Sikora.
"Together, all of our experiments show how important the lysozyme inhibitor is, which is very exciting."