Scientists reveal how cholera bacterium gains a foothold in the gut

Jan 27, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of biologists at the University of York has made an important advance in our understanding of the way cholera attacks the body. The discovery could help scientists target treatments for the globally significant intestinal disease which kills more than 100,000 people every year.

The disease is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is able to colonise the intestine usually after consumption of or food. Once infection is established, the bacterium secretes a that causes watery and ultimately death if not treated rapidly. Colonisation of the intestine is difficult for incoming as they have to be highly competitive to gain a foothold among the trillions of other bacteria already in situ.

Scientists at York, led by Dr. Gavin Thomas in the University’s Department of Biology, have investigated one of the important routes that V. uses to gain this foothold. To be able to grow in the the bacterium harvests and then eats a sugar, called sialic acid, that is present on the surface of our gut cells.

Collaborators of the York group at the University of Delaware, USA, led by Professor Fidelma Boyd, had shown previously that eating sialic acid was important for the survival of V. cholerae in animal models, but the mechanism by which the bacteria recognise and take up the sialic was unknown.

The York research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), demonstrates that the pathogen uses a particular kind of transporter called a TRAP transporter to recognise sialic acid and take it up into the cell. The transporter has particular properties that are suited to scavenging the small amount of available sialic acid.  The research also provided some important basic information about how TRAP transporters work in general.

The leader of the research in York, Dr Gavin Thomas, said: “This work continues our discoveries of how bacteria that grow in our body exploit sialic acid for their survival and help us to take forward our efforts to design chemicals to inhibit these processes in different bacterial pathogens.”

The research is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and was primarily the work of Dr Christopher Mulligan, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Thomas’s laboratory.

Explore further: Researchers produce first atlas of airborne microbes across United States

More information: The paper ‘The Membrane Proteins SiaQ and SiaM Form an Essential Stoichiometric Complex in the Sialic Acid Tripartite ATP-independent Periplasmic (TRAP) Transporter SiaPQM (VC1777–1779) from Vibrio cholera’ is published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vol. 287, Issue 5, 3598-3608

Related Stories

Sweet as can be: How E. coli gets ahead

Nov 12, 2009

Scientists at the University of York have discovered how certain bacteria such as Escherichia coli have evolved to capture rare sugars from their environment giving them an evolutionary advantage in naturally competitive enviro ...

Researchers work towards pharmacological targets for cholera

Jan 20, 2011

Just over a year after the earthquake in Haiti killed 222,000 people there's a new problem that is killing Haitians. A cholera outbreak has doctors in the area scrambling and the water-borne illness has already claimed 3600 ...

Vibrio bacteria found in Norwegian seafood and seawater

Feb 24, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- While working on her doctorate, Anette Bauer Ellingsen discovered potentially disease-causing vibrios (Vibrio cholerae, V. parahaemolyticus and V. vulnificus) in Norwegian seafood and inshore ...

Recommended for you

Vascular cells can fuse with themselves

13 hours ago

Cells of the vascular system of vertebrates can fuse with themselves. This process, which occurs when a blood vessel is no longer necessary and pruned, has now been described on the cellular level by Prof. ...

Key element in bacterial immune system discovered

14 hours ago

A University of Otago scientist is a member of an international research team that has made an important discovery about the workings of a bacterial immune system. The finding could lead to the development ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.