Researchers have discovered that the bacterium that causes leprosy has the ability to reprogram cells to mature into different cell types. Scientists made this discovery when they sought to understand how leprosy spreads around the body.
They found that the initial target of the leprosy bacterium Mycobacterium leprae is Schwann cells, which forms a part of the peripheral nervous system. The cells were found to completely cover the nerves in such a manner as to cut off the electric signals passing through.
During the study, researchers separated Schwann cells from mice and induced infection with M. leprae. The bacteria seemed to activate Schwann cells' ability to go back to an immature state and convert into new types of cells.
"This is a very sophisticated mechanism it seems that the bacterium knows the mechanistic interaction of the Schwann cell better than we do," says Anura Rambukkana, a regeneration biologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who led the study.
The study showed that after reprogramming, it was easy for the cells to migrate to different body areas and spread the bacteria upon contact with tissue cells.