The secret behind bacterial fusion: a Chlamydia produced protein gives insight into increasing pathogenicity

An image to illustrate Chlamydia bacterial, which researchers have used to investigate bacterial fusion
©iStock/iLexx

Researchers at Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University have gained insights into how bacterial fusion works, by studying a Chlamydia produced protein.

To understand bacterial fusion, the researchers wanted to determine an electron density map of the fusion protein. in order to achieve this down to the specific location of atoms, they grew crystals out of the protein and applied X-ray radiation to capture a reflection of the size and location of the atoms.

Studying Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria

According to Thomas Jefferson University, “most people know Chlamydia as the venereal disease that can cause infertility if left untreated. But for researchers studying the causative agent, Chlamydia trachomatis, it’s a bacteria with intriguing properties.”

“Rather than grow and replicate in the blood or other bodily fluids, C. trachomatis get inside cells where they multiply. In most people, this trait keeps the bacterium from being detected by the immune system, and helps the disease fly under the radar; not everyone infected with Chlamydia will show symptoms of the disease. But managing to stay alive inside an infected cell is no small feat for bacteria.”

How Chlamydia survives in its host cell

The pathogenicity of Chlamydia trachomatis relies on inclusion, which the university describes as an intracellular parasitic niche made from the outer membrane of the host cell.

When a human cell Is infected with it, each bacterium develops an individual inclusion which fuse together into one large inclusion. This bacterial fusion event is the reason behind Chlamydia trachomatis’ ability to cause disease.

How unusual is bacterial fusion?

According to the researchers, the membrane-bound compartments of eukaryotic cells fuse all the time. However, it is very unusual for bacteria to develop fusion machinery.

Dr Cingolani adds: “Identifying a bacterial protein that helps intracellular parasitic compartments fuse, gives researchers a new tool to probe key disease processes caused by bacteria. I have colleagues who are just drooling to apply this to their research on mycobacteria, where membrane fusion is key to tuberculosis.”

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