CIC bioGUNE discovers a key protein to fight Legionnaires’ disease

Monday, September 29th, 2014

A study led by the Basque Center for Cooperative Research in Biosciences, CIC bioGUNE, in collaboration with the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), has discovered that when the Legionella bacteria infects human cells, it releases a protein that prevents their destruction.

This protein could become a target for future drugs to prevent the bacteria from infecting the human organism. The Legionella pneumophila bacteria is responsible for legionellosis, a disease that can cause pneumonia, very high fever and, in the most extreme cases, death.

Legionella lives in stagnant water and enters the human body through the airways when microscopic drops of contaminated water are inhaled. In normal conditions, human cells would ‘eat’ and destroy the bacteria when it enters the body, but CIC bioGUNE, NIH and BSC have discovered that the Legionella bacteria releases the protein mentioned, thereby impeding development of the cell’s ‘digestive system’.

More specifically, the protein inhibits maturation of the endosome, an organule that, when matured, acts as the cell’s ‘stomach’. By hindering the growth of this organule, the bacteria manages to survive within the cell.

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