This is how wily, virulent pathogen infiltrates cells

January 2nd, 2009 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 2 (IANS) Wily pathogenic bacteria send scouts to prepare for their arrival. They are teams of molecules that bacteria inject into cells they want to colonise, sent to hijack their hosts’ biochemistry to serve their master’s microbial needs. These molecules - called virulence factors - co-opt essential cell functions including the reproduction cycle and cell structure assembly, suppressing the cells’ defences against bacterial invasion and causing disease.

Researchers at Rockefeller University have revealed the crystal structure of one virulence factor common to the meaner strains of E. coli that are the leading causes of dangerous bouts of diarrhoea in developing countries, said a Rockefeller release.

The structure, a kind of molecular image that shows the position and identity of every atom in the so-called cycle inhibiting factor (Cif), offers clues as to how this particular bacterial weapon works and, potentially, how to defend against it or even use it to attack cancer.

“Cif shuts down cell cycle progression in a way we don’t yet understand. If we can figure this out, we may be able to find ways to inhibit the cell cycle in certain tissues that we don’t want to grow, like tumours,” said C. Erec Stebbins, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Structural Microbiology at Rockefeller.

The research of Stebbins and his colleagues, published in the Journal of Molecular Biology, is a significant advance toward understanding exactly how Cif manipulates the cells it invades.

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