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Can bacteria use pain to tamp down the immune system?

Nothing gets our attention like pain.

But pain is more than the body’s miniature cattle prod to get us to heed a wound, rest a swollen ankle, or stop eating chili peppers. Pain may be the language between animals and microbes.

Far from being a product of an inflamed immune system, aggravated nerves far from the spine and brain appear to communicate with invading bacteria and regulate the fight against them, according to a study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. And at least one tenacious bacterium shows the ability to manipulate a pain signal to put the brakes on a mammal's molecular defenses, the study suggests.

The report, which examined Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in mice, adds to a growing body of evidence linking such microbial elements as human gut bacteria with mood and brain development. Recent research has shown that DNA from microbes can be transferred to animals. And a University of Maryland study published in June showed DNA from microbes could transfer into some human somatic cells - though previous claims of widespread lateral gene transfer between microbes and the human genome have been refuted.
 
 

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