University of Western Ontario's scientists have discovered certain processes that reduce the lethal effects of toxins from superbugs. This, they hope, will help humans and microbes to co-evolve.
Lead researcher Joaquin Madrenas, from the Robarts Research Institute, believes that his team's findings may pave the way for new alternatives to antibiotics that specifically target the toxic effects of these superbugs.
The researchers focused their study on staphylococcus aureus.
Simply known as staph, this superbug is the leading cause of infections in hospitals and the second most common cause of infections in the general population.
These bugs produce lethal weapons called superantigens that cause massive and harmful activation of the immune system that leads to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a very serious disease that carries a high mortality, for which there is no specific treatment.
Scientists have been puzzled as to why a person can died within hours when his/her body is directly exposed to the TSS toxins, while individuals may carry toxin-producing staph and not get sick or die.
Thus, Madrenas and his colleagues set out to determine what has the staph bug got that prevents the immune system of the host from being kicked into high gear.
His team's efforts have led to the identification of the process that enables the bug to stay in the body without causing that massive activation of the immune system.
The researchers say that the secret lies in molecules found in the cell wall of staph, which bind to receptors known as TLR2 on immune cells of the host triggering the production of a protein called IL-10, an anti-inflammatory molecule that will prevent TSS.
"It is clear that staph superbugs have developed strategies to control the toxicity of its lethal superantigen toxins, thereby preventing TSS. We believe that this is an important mechanism that warrants continued investigation. It also illustrates that evolution may operate not only by competition but also by networking ultimately leading to peaceful co-existence," Nature magazine quoted Madrenas as saying.
Based on their findings, his research group have also developed a computer model that will help predict the outcomes of encounters between staph and a host, and will reveal new aspects of these encounters.
The findings have been published in the online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.