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Scientists reveal how disease bacterium survives inside immune system cell

New research on a bacterium that can survive encounters with specific immune system cells has strengthened scientists' belief that these plentiful white blood cells, known as neutrophils, dictate whether our immune system will permit or prevent bacterial infections. A paper describing the research was released today online in The Journal of Immunology. Frank R. DeLeo, Ph.D., of Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health, directed the work at RML, in Hamilton, MT, in collaboration with lead author Dori L. Borjesson, D.V.M., Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Scientists analyzed how neutrophils from healthy blood donors respond to Anaplasma phagocytophilum, a tick-borne bacterium that causes granulocytic anaplasmosis in people, dogs, horses and cows. A. phagocytophilum is carried by the same tick that transmits Lyme disease and was first identified in humans in 1996. Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA) -- formerly called human granulocytic ehrlichiosis -- is prevalent in Minnesota and along the East Coast. HGA typically causes mild symptoms that include fever, muscle aches and nausea. Some 362 U.S. cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003.

HGA is considered an emerging infectious disease, and Dr. Borjesson is working to understand how it affects blood cells -- and neutrophils in particular. "Few people know about this pathogen, but it is important because it is transmitted by ticks and causes disease in both animals and humans," Dr. Borjesson says.

Neutrophils, which make up about 60 percent of all white blood cells, are the largest cellular component of the human immune system -- billions exist inside each human. Typically, neutrophils ingest and then kill harmful bacteria by producing molecules that are toxic to cells, including a bleach-like substance called hypochlorous acid. Once th
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Contact: Ken Pekoc
kpekoc@niaid.nih.gov
406-375-9690
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
5-May-2005


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