Australian scientists have discovered a bacteria which could stop meningitis - the scientists at the University of Western Australia believe their discovery will help researchers understand how the meningitis bacteria infects cells and could lead to the prevention of infections such as meningitis.
The bacteria Neisseria meningitidis which causes the disease in humans is spread between people in respiratory droplets and can cause rapid and fatal blood poisoning in young children - about 400 cases occur in Australia each year.
Currently there are no vaccines which are completely effective and Dr. Charlene Kahler, a senior lecturer in UWA's School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences was interested in understanding how the micro-organism causes the disease.
Dr. Kahler says like many micro-organisms the meningitis bacteria synthesises proteins and exports them out of the cell and these exported proteins help the microorganism invade and grow inside the human body.
Dr. Kahler says one of the common features of these proteins is that they are folded and held in the correct conformation by a special bond - the disulfide bond - which is incorporated into the protein by an enzyme called an oxidoreductase, without which many pathogenic bacteria cannot cause any disease at all.
According to Dr. Kahler although the enzyme is found in most microorganisms, how it recognises the proteins into which it adds the bond is unclear.
Dr. Kahler along with Dr. Martin Scanlon at Monash University, crystallised and defined the structure of the oxidoreductase from Neisseria meningitidis and they say the information gleaned will allow future studies into how to develop molecules that interfere with the function of the oxidoreductase enzyme and prevent microbial infections.
The research is published in the November issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.