New type of bacterial protection found within cells

Nov 13, 2012

UC Irvine biologists have discovered that fats within cells store a class of proteins with potent antibacterial activity, revealing a previously unknown type of immune system response that targets and kills bacterial infections.

Steven Gross, UCI professor of developmental & cell biology, and colleagues identified this novel intercellular role of histone proteins in fruit flies, and it could herald a new approach to fighting bacterial growth within cells. The study appears today in eLife, a new peer-reviewed, open-access journal supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust.

"We found that these histone proteins have pan-antibacterial abilities and can have a wide-ranging effect," Gross said. "If we can discover how to manipulate the system to increase histone levels, we may one day have a new way to treat patients with bad bacterial infections."

Histones exist in large numbers in most animal cells; their primary job is to help DNA strands fold into compact and robust structures inside the nucleus. Gross said there is some evidence that histones secreted from cells protect against bacteria living outside cells. However, many bacteria enter cells, where they can avoid the immune system and continue replicating.

In principle, Gross said, histones could protect cells against such bacteria from the inside, but for many years this was thought unlikely because most histones are bound to DNA strands in the cell nucleus, whereas bacteria multiply in the cellular fluid outside the nucleus, called cytosol. Additionally, free histones can be extremely damaging to cells, so most species have developed mechanisms to detect and degrade free histones in the cytosol.

In their study, Gross and colleagues demonstrate that histones bound to lipid () droplets can protect cells against bacteria without causing any of the harm normally associated with the presence of free histones. In experiments with lipid droplets purified from Drosophila fruit fly embryos, they show that lipid-bound histones can be released to kill bacteria.

The researchers injected similar numbers of bacteria into Drosophila embryos that contained lipid-bound histones and into embryos genetically modified to not contain them. They discovered that the histone-deficient flies were 14 times more likely to die of bacterial infections. Similar results were found in experiments on adult flies. Additional evidence suggested that histones might also protect mice against .

"Because numerous studies have now identified histones on lipid droplets in many different – from humans as well as mice and flies – it seems likely that this system may be quite general," Gross said.

Explore further: How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

More information: Anand et al. eLife 2012;1:e00003. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.00003

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Roles of DNA packaging protein revealed

Feb 12, 2009

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that a class of chromatin proteins is crucial for maintaining the structure and function of chromosomes and the normal development ...

Researchers provide atomic view of a histone chaperone

Mar 01, 2012

Mayo Clinic researchers have gained insights into the function of a member of a family of specialized proteins called histone chaperones. Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography, they ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

4 hours ago

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

4 hours ago

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

Histones and the mystery of cell proliferation

Aug 19, 2014

Before cells divide, they create so much genetic material that it must be wound onto spools before the two new cells can split apart. These spools are actually proteins called histones, and they must multiply ...

User comments : 0