Researchers have unlocked another piece in the puzzle of what causes Lyme Disease. A team has identified a protein in Borrelia burgdorferi that amplifies inflammation in Lyme arthritis patients. The protein called NapA acts as a “molecular beacon” that antagonises a patients’ immune system. By unlocking the hidden mechanisms at work, scientists can develop better diagnostic tests and more effective treatments.
Peptidoglycan is a part of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Scientists have established that peptidoglycan stays in the body after the bacteria has entered a patient’s body. In the following weeks and months, peptidoglycan causes pain and inflammation that progressively gets worse.
While peptidoglycan is understood to cause inflammatory pain, it wasn’t clear exactly how – until now. Using advanced scientific techniques, scientists studying peptidoglycan identified the cause of inflammation, a protein called NapA.
NapA, or Neutrophil Attracting Protein A, to give it its full name, can recruit immune cells to work in two ways to affect the body. “We believe NapA’s devious side has two modes: Early in infection, when bacteria are dying and releasing NapA and peptidoglycan, it acts as a decoy to attract immune cells, which allows the viable bacteria to escape and cause disease. In later stages of the disease, it may act to attract immune cells to peptidoglycan, a molecule capable of causing inflammation and arthritis,” the authors said.
The research, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, improves scientists’ understanding of how Borrelia burgdorferi causes inflammation and disease.
The findings illustrate how complex the underlying mechanisms of Lyme disease are, said Mari Davis, lead author and a former master’s graduate of the Jutras lab in the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “It is a testament to how unique that this bacterium is — and how we need to keep working to understand more about what is going on behind the scenes,” she said.
There are likely to be practical applications for the findings, too. Specifically, the authors believe that both peptidoglycan and NapA could be used as targets for developing new drug treatments in the future.
Lyme disease is increasing across the world, with almost half a million patients diagnosed with the condition in the USA last year. Lyme disease must be diagnosed as early as possible, as effective antibiotic treatments are available.
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You can read the full paper, The peptidoglycan-associated protein NapA plays an important role in the envelope integrity and in the pathogenesis of the lyme disease spirochete, here.