Zipper Proteins Hook Up Bacteria and Humans

May 8, 2003

The goal of Magnus Höök’s research is to understand the molecular processes that allow bacteria to cause infections. The threat of bacterial infections has become a worldwide concern as many bacteria have developed resistance to previously effective antibiotics. Old pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus have emerged as “super bugs” that are hard to treat using commercially available antibiotics. Lately, bacteria used as terrorist weapons have also become a threat to our society.
Höök runs an award-winning laboratory at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT), located in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. His lab’s newest research is featured in the May 8 issue of Nature. Teaming up with scientists at Oxford University, UK, they found that disease-causing bacteria might use a specialized zipper mechanism to attach to human cells. The discovery may help shed light on how certain bacteria can invade cells of humans.
“We found that many Staphylococci and Streptococci produce a surface protein that can act as a zipper,” Höök explains. Bacteria use this zipper to associate with fibronectin, a protein that links to specific receptors on human cells, allowing the bacteria to gain entry to the host cell.
The report in Nature highlights a novel mechanism for protein-protein interaction and reveals important details of how bacteria cause infections. As bacteria become increasingly drug resistant and cause sometimes-lethal infections, research breakthroughs like Höök’s are of critical importance in the search for new strategies to combat these potentially deadly microbes.
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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