Tricky TB bacterium sugarcoats its invasion of lungs

September 30th, 2008 - 4:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 30 (IANS) Common strains of TB causing bacteria have appropriated the body’s immune response to play tricks on lungs cells, according to scientists.The results of this takeover are mixed. The cells essentially welcome the bacteria into the lungs and invite them to stay a while, meaning the human host becomes infected with the TB bacterium.

In 90 percent of these cases, the infection remains latent and the infected person never has any symptoms of illness. The secret weapon in this stealth attack is sugar.

Ohio State University researchers have determined that Mycobacterium tuberculosis has learned through evolution to coat itself with a sugar called mannose, making itself attractive to lung cells looking to clean up and discard unwanted sugar in the body.

Those unsuspecting lung cells absorb the TB bacteria, giving the invaders a place to live for the long term. About 2 billion people worldwide are thought to be infected with TB bacteria, according to a release of the Ohio State.

“The bug sugarcoats itself and creates this magical interaction that allows it to slip by the immune system. We think that this is a beautiful example of the concept of host adaptation,” said Larry Schlesinger, professor of internal medicine at Ohio State.

Schlesinger presented his findings at the First International Congress “Mycobacteria: A Challenge for the 21st Century” in Bogotà, Colombia.

This newest research appears online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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