(COLLEGE STATION) Research undertaken at the The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology may help fight the growing threat of staph infections. This is important because the disease-causing pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is becoming more resistant to drugs.
In the November 18 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Eric Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, shows how the MHC class II Analog Protein (known as Map) interferes with the function of T cells, a patient’s most specific defense against foreign intruders, which appeared to promote the persistence and survival of S. aureus in infected mice.
Staphylococcus aureus is an opportunistic pathogen that can cause persistent and sometimes lethal infections such as sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, food poisoning and severe skin diseases. Staphylococcal infections begin when the organism gains access to host tissues or the adjoining blood supply through breaches in the skin. More than 20% of healthy humans are natural carriers of S. aureus, 10%-20% of these carriers harbor multidrug-resistant strains, and the frequencies of both community-acquired and hospital-acquired staphylococcal infections continue to increase. Disturbingly, our stockpile of antibiotics is not evolving at a rate capable of quelling the uprising of resistance.
Determining whether an infection is contained or succeeds in spreading is a complex battle between defensive cells of the patient’s immune system and the onslaught of the array of enzymes, toxins and other injurious factors released by the bacterium. During early stages of infection, the S. aureus expresses proteins that enable its binding to, and colonization of, host tissue. Following establishment within the host, other toxins and enzymes help the staphylococci spread to nearby tissue and begin the process of colonization over and over again.
Dr. Brown says, “The T cell-inhibitory properties of the Map protein suggest it may function as a therapeutic agent. Preliminary data from our laboratory indicate it may prevent contact allergies like poison ivy and may prevent skin graft rejection.”
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components, located in communities throughout Texas, are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.

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