Learn More

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bacteria Secret Life Revealed In Healthy Cells

purdue university scientist
Purdue associate professor of biological
sciences Zhao-Qing Luo, at right, and
graduate student Yunhao Tan look
at the growth of Legionella pneumophila
bacteria in a petri dish. (Purdue University photo
 provided by Laurie Iten and Rodney McPhail)
Revealing the secrets of a bacterium in building houses in the healthy cells is an important step that should be known by biologists. By knowing this secret, so biologists can take certain steps in curing the disease or prevention of disease. Bacterial proteins using cellular membrane proteins to build their houses to stretch and grow big.

The research was conducted by scientists from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.. They used the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which causes Legionnaires disease. The bacteria alter host proteins to transform raw materials within the cell, use in building and disguising a large structure that houses the bacteria as it replicates.

"The bacterial proteins use the cellular membrane proteins to build their house, which is sort of like a balloon," Luo said. "It needs to stretch and grow bigger as more bacterial replication occurs. The membrane material helps the vacuole be more rubbery and stretchy, and it also camouflages the structure. The bacteria is stealing material from the cell to build their own house and then disguising it so it blends in with the neighborhood."

The method by which the bacteria achieve this theft is what was most surprising to Luo.

The bacterial proteins, named AnkX and Lem3, modify the host protein through a biochemical process called phosphorylcholination that is used by healthy cells to regulate immune response. Phosphorylcholination is known to happen in many organisms and involves adding a small chemical group, called the phosphorylcholine moiety, to a target molecule, he said.

AnkX adding phosphorylcholine into the role of host proteins involved in cell movement of proteins from the endoplasmic reticulum to their cellular. The modification effectively shuts down this process and creates a dam that blocks the proteins from reaching their destination.

The bacterial protein Lem3 is positioned outside the vacuole and reverses the modification of the host protein to ensure that the protein "bricks" are free to be used in creation of the bacterial structure. This study was the first to identify proteins that directly add and remove the phosphorylcholine moiety, Luo said.

"We were surprised to find that the bacterial proteins use the phosphorylcholination process and to discover that this process is reversible," he said. "This is evidence of a new way signals are relayed within cells, and we are eager to investigate it."

The team also found that the phosphorylcholination reaction is carried out at a specific site on the protein called the Fic domain. Previous studies had shown this site induced a different reaction called AMPylation.

It is rare for a domain to catalyze more than one reaction, and it was thought this site's only responsibility was to transfer the chemical group necessary for AMPylation, Luo said.

"Revealing that this domain has dual roles is very important to identify or screen for compounds to inhibit its activity and fight disease," he said. "This domain has a much broader involvement in biochemical reactions than we thought and may be a promising target for effective treatments."

During infection bacteria deliver hundreds of proteins into healthy cells that alter cellular processes to turn the hostile environment into one hospitable to bacterial replication, but the specific roles of only about 20 proteins are known, Luo said.

"In order to pinpoint proteins that would be good targets for new antibiotics, we need to determine their roles and importance to the success of infection," he said. "We need to understand at the biochemical level exactly what these proteins do and how they take over natural cellular processes. Then we can work on finding ways to block these activities, stop the infection and save lives."

A paper detailing their National Institutes of Health-funded work is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. In addition to Luo, Purdue graduate student Yunhao Tan and Randy Ronald of Indiana University co-authored the paper.

Source: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/111220LuoPNAS.html