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Epidemic bacteria can damage mucins to enter and infect a body part

Scientists from the Schepens Eye Research Institute, a subsidiary of Mass. Eye and Ear and affiliate of Harvard Medical School, have found for the first time that a bacterial pathogen can literally mow down protective molecules, known as mucins, on mucus membranes to enter and infect a part of the body. Their landmark study, published in the March 7, 2012 PLoS ONE, describes how they discovered that an "epidemic" strain of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes conjunctivitis, secretes an enzyme to damage mucins and breach the mucosal membrane to infect and inflame the eye.

"We are excited about this finding," says Ilene Gipson, Ph.D., the study's principal investigator and a senior scientist at the Schepens. "Our discovery may ultimately lead to new ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing bacterial infections originating not only in the eye but in other parts of the body as well."
 
 

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