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The Bacteria's guide to survival

If there was a market for it, a survival guide for bacteria might include topics like "How to use your pili to keep your host from going apoptotic." A host's cells can respond to a bacterial infection with apoptosis, or programmed cell death. For bacteria that pass directly from host to host, this can pose a problem. If the bacteria are highly virulent and induce too much cell death, they could take down their host before they're able to jump ship, thus hurting the bacteria's chances of survival in the long run.

Reporting in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, Magdalene So and colleagues present evidence that bacteria can induce changes in hosts' gene expression - and possibly keep the host cells alive longer - through tiny tugs on cell membranes. The study examined gene activity in human epithelial cells infected with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria responsible for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea.

By comparing cells infected with normal N. gonorrhoeae to those infected with a mutant strain with defective pili, the researchers found a subset of 52 host genes that had higher activity when the host was infected with the normal bacteria, suggesting that the pulls of the pili were responsible. They then showed that an artificial mechanical pull on the host cell membrane could trigger a signaling cascade in the host cells to affect the host's gene expression.

Many of the genes that increased in activity due to the tugs were already known to regulate apoptosis and cellular response to stress, including mechanical strain on the membrane. Also, a majority of these genes were known to be induced by a family of proteins called mitogen-activated protein kinases, or MAPKs. The researchers showed that blocking MAPKs reduced the activity of several of the genes that are usually enhanced by infection with the normal bacteria. Also, they found that cells infected with the bacteria tended to survive treatment with st
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Contact: Paul Ocampo
pocampo@plos.org
415-624-1224
Public Library of Science
21-Mar-2005


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