A team of biologists at the University of York has made an important advance in our understanding of the way cholera attacks the body. The discovery could help scientists target treatments for the globally significant intestinal disease which kills more than 100,000 people every year.
The disease is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is able to colonise the intestine usually after consumption of contaminated water or food. Once infection is established, the bacterium secretes a toxin that causes watery diarrhoea and ultimately death if not treated rapidly. Colonisation of the intestine is difficult for incoming bacteria as they have to be highly competitive to gain a foothold among the trillions of other bacteria already in situ.
Scientists at York, led by Dr. Gavin Thomas in the University's Department of Biology, have investigated one of the important routes that V. cholerae uses to gain this foothold. To be able to grow in the intestine the bacterium harvests and then eats a sugar, called sialic acid, that is present on the surface of our gut cells.
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Journal of Biological Chemistry - "The Membrane Proteins SiaQ and SiaM Form an Essential Stoichiometric Complex in the Sialic Acid Tripartite ATP-independent Periplasmic (TRAP) Transporter SiaPQM (VC1777–1779) from Vibrio cholerae" (http://www.jbc.org/content/287/5/3598.abstract?sid=83b82da4-b85c-46a4-afbb-f9bf812eff7f)