The meningitis bacteria and others like them are lethal because of their ability to evade the body’s immune system. However, with scientists finding out how they hide in plain sight, the days of these stealth bombers may be numbered.
The meningitis and the gonorrhoea bacteria, for example, have key-like proteins that help them infiltrate human cells and wreak havoc, Linda Columbus and colleagues explain.
Gonorrhoea can be cured even after the bacteria have turned into “superbugs,” and have become resistant to known drugs. However, meningitis can cause extreme disability and death if not treated instantly with antibiotics.
In their quest for new ways of defeating these diseases, scientists are closely studying how the bacteria are able to get under the human body’s radar and move around undetected. Usually an infection sets alarm bells ringing in the body, triggered by antigens or specific proteins found on the outer layer of the pathogen. This prompts the immune system to go on the attack.
But these two kinds of bacteria are able to elude the body’s look-out cells by constantly changing their structure. These act like a camouflage that helps them evade the body’s sentinels, at the same time preserving their ability to bind to and enter a human cell. This deeper understanding could help lead to new treatments for bacterial diseases.