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Stomach Bug uses novel mechanism to infect cells

Created by paustian on Aug 1, 2013, 8:31 AM

 

At the UT Southwestern Medical Center, researchers are investigating a seafood contaminant that thrives in the summer. This contaminant, Vibrio paraphaemolyticus, is a bacterium that causes a stomach flu and has a novel mechanism by which it infects cells. The bacterium inject proteins, known as effectors which regulator biological activity, into the cell. VopQ is an important effector and is the focus of this research. Once into the cell, VopQ disrupts autophagy. Autophagy is the process of recycling nutrients to be reused as metabolites for the cell. The mechanism by which VopQ disrupts autophagy is novel. VopQ creates gated ion channels in the cell membrane. These channels are pores that only permit regulated ions and/or small molecules to pass through the cell membrane. They also have an open and close mechanism for the particles, similar to a gate. 

Through these ion-gated channels, VopQ is able to infect the cell and inhibit autophagy by de-acidifying the inside of the cell. When the inside of the cell is less acidic, it has a more difficult time recycling the nutrients and the process is inhibited.

This gate mechanism is exciting to researchers because it can be a good target for drug development. Further research is needed to understand this process further. A greater understanding of the process can lead to a better general understanding of host-pathogen interactions, which can lead to new treatments for illnesses caused by dysfunctional autophagy.  Some of these illnesses can include cancers, heart muscle diseases, and liver disease.