Gonorrhea bacterium manipulates an anti-infection mechanism in the female reproductive tract

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Adapted Media Release

The bacterium that
causes gonorrhea infects the female reproductive tract by breaking connections
between cells in the tract’s protective lining, according to new research
published in PLOS Pathogens.
Gonorrhea is a
widespread sexually transmitted disease caused when Neisseria gonorrhoeae
bacteria infect the normally protective inner lining of human genital tissues.
In women, the opening of the uterus, known as the endocervix, serves as a
primary infection site for N. gonorrhoeae. However, the strategy used by N.
gonorrhoeae to penetrate the lining of the endocervix has been unclear.
To investigate this
mechanism, Liang-Chun Wang of the University of Maryland, College Park, and
colleagues needed to develop an alternative to the mouse models normally used
to study gonorrhea, since they have been inadequate for this purpose. The team
developed a new model using tissue samples obtained from the human endocervix.
The researchers
infected the endocervix tissue, as well as lab-grown cells of the same type as
those that line the endocervix, with N. gonorrhoeae. They then employed a
variety of molecular and imaging techniques to examine the infection mechanism.
The results
demonstrate that N. gonorrhoeae penetrates the endocervix lining by interfering
with a normally protective process. Usually, infected cells in the lining can
be shed and disposed of without breaking the tight connections between cells
that keep the lining uncompromised. N. gonorrhoeae appears to be able to break
these connections and induce cell shedding, opening paths for penetration
without reducing its ability to adhere to and invade the cells of the lining.
The scientists
showed that N. gonorrhoeae causes disruption of cellular connections and cell
shedding by promoting activation and accumulation of a human protein known as
non-muscle myosin II. Depending on the particular genes being expressed by N.
gonorrhoeae at any given time, the team found, it can either promote or inhibit
this penetration mechanism.
This study
represents the first laboratory demonstration of the penetration of N.
gonorrhoeae into the human endocervix and provides new insights into gonorrhea
Article: Neisseria
gonorrhoeae infects the human endocervix by activating non-muscle myosin
II-mediated epithelial exfoliation, Wang L-C, Yu Q, Edwards V, Lin B, Qiu J,
Turner JR, et al., PLOS Pathogens, doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1006269, published
13 April 2017.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.