New findings could help target the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and syphilis (w/ Video)

Nov 19, 2013

The bacterial pathogens that cause Lyme disease and syphilis are highly invasive. These pathogens, or spirochetes, can invade the central nervous system and, in the case of syphilis, enter the placenta, causing disease in the unborn child. In the November 19 issue of the Biophysical Journal, a Cell Press publication, researchers provide new insights into how these spirochetes penetrate tissue barriers. The findings might be used to develop new treatment strategies to help affected patients or even prevent infections.

"We are one of the few groups that are trying to understand the physical interactions with the environment that make spirochetes such successful pathogens," says senior author Dr. Charles Wolgemuth of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "We've previously understood very little about how these bacteria move through and into our organs, tissues, and central nervous system, but our work sheds light on these processes and could form the basis for novel therapeutics that target the bacterium's ability to invade."

Dr. Wolgemuth and his team, in collaboration with Dr. Justin Radolf at the University of Connecticut Health Center, found that the swimming speeds of the bacteria decrease with increases in the viscosity of their external environment, even though their motors—called flagella—are entirely intracellular. The team then used mathematical modeling to determine how these flagellar motors propel the undulating bacteria forward through viscous fluids. Finally, they fit their simulated data to their experimental data to reveal how external forces affect the movement of the Lyme disease and syphilis spirochetes.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The bacterial pathogens that cause Lyme disease and syphilis are highly invasive. These pathogens, or spirochetes, can invade the central nervous system and, in the case of syphilis, enter the placenta, causing disease in the unborn child. In the Nov. 19 issue of the Biophysical Journal, a Cell Press publication, researchers provide new insights into how these spirochetes penetrate tissue barriers. The findings might be used to develop new treatment strategies to help affected patients or even prevent infections. Credit: Biophysical Journal, Castellano et al

The researchers also showed that both types of spirochetes (syphilis's Treponema pallidum and Lyme disease's Borrelia burgdorferi) respond to changes in viscosity in a similar manner and can be explained by the same biophysical model. "Since the syphilis bacterium cannot be cultured in the lab, our results show that data derived from studying the Lyme disease bacterium is highly informative about the syphilis bacterium and can be used as a 'surrogate' for it," says Dr. Wolgemuth.

Explore further: Two-armed control of ATR, a master regulator of the DNA damage checkpoint

More information: Biophysical Journal, Castellano et al.: "Viscous Dynamics of Lyme Disease and Syphilis Spirochetes Reveal Flagellar Torque and Drag" dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2013.10.004

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers track Lyme disease spirochetes

Jun 20, 2008

Microbiologists at the University of Calgary have demonstrated the first direct visualization of the dissemination of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This real-time, three-dimensional look at ...

Understanding the Bacterium that Causes Syphilis

Apr 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An article published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes a long way toward improving understanding of the bacterium that causes syphilis and may lead to novel therapeutic approa ...

Lyme disease bacteria take cover in lymph nodes

Jun 16, 2011

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease, one of the most important emerging diseases in the United States, appear to hide out in the lymph nodes, triggering a significant immune response, but one that is not strong enough to ...

Recommended for you

Japanese scientist resigns over stem cell scandal

Dec 19, 2014

A researcher embroiled in a fabrication scandal that has rocked Japan's scientific establishment said Friday she would resign after failing to reproduce results of what was once billed as a ground-breaking study on ...

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

Dec 18, 2014

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

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.