How “Spider-Man” and “Pac-Man” Cells Unite to Kill Bacteria

A new study, published in the journal Science Advances, was able to observe an unusual cross-over within the immune system. Cells with Spider-Man and Pac-Man abilities team up to fight the evildoers; in this case, bacteria that invade the organism.

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    In the study, carried out in rats, the researchers demonstrated the joint action of neutrophils, defense cells that self-destruct to trigger a kind of web, known as neutrophil extracellular traps (or NET) from their ruptured membranes.

    NET has two functions. The first is to use neutrophil DNA to degrade the bacteria. The other is to alert macrophages to the threat; these white blood cells have the function of absorbing and neutralizing threats, much like Pac-Man against ghosts.

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    Neutrophils (in red) use NETs (in blue) to capture bacteria (in green ) (Image: Andrew J. Monteith/Vanderbilt University)
  • The aim of the study was to better understand how the partnership between these two characters works in the face of an infection. The researchers had already noticed that a specific protein, called S100A9, governs the speed of NET firing, and that mice with lower levels are more likely to survive Staphylococcus aureus, Methicillin-resistant bacteria.

    The latest research has helped to understand this mechanism. When this protein is low, neutrophil mitochondria leak electrons that produce cell-damaging free radicals, which facilitates self-destruction and faster release of NET. Thus, the joint operation with macrophages is more agile and effective.

    The same result was observed when the cells were fighting the infection by

    Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can affect various organs, and by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, commonly contracted in hospital infections.

    Researchers note that people with autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, tend to produce more protein S02A9, o which can cause slower TEN triggering and a lower response to staphylococcal bacterial infections.

    Source: Live Science

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