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Researchers describe how Salmonella bacteria use 'sticky' proteins to infect blood cells

New research by Professor Robert Read into the development of Salmonella food poisoning has revealed how the bacteria get inside and hijack the body’s white blood cells.

While Salmonella bacteria are commonly known to cause food poisoning, the strain of Salmonella enterica known as S. Typhimurium can lead to fatal widespread infections such as typhoid fever.

Now new research, published in the Journal of Infection, has determined how S. Typhimurium uses a specific type of protein to attach to a type of white blood cell, a key stage in enabling the bacteria to spread throughout the body and cause a more serious infection.

Professor Robert Read, research lead for NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre’s microbial science theme, worked with researchers at the University of Sheffield to make the discovery.

Invading blood cells

Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that is specially designed to defend the body against threats such as bacteria, by engulfing and destroying them.

Yet the Salmonella-causing bacteria S. typhimurium are very much at home inside a macrophage’s acid-filled compartments, and actively seek to get inside these cells, where they can replicate undetected by the immune system and spread in the blood to other parts of the body.

The researchers revealed that the bacteria use ‘sticky’ tetraspanin proteins, particularly one called CD63, to attach themselves to the macrophages, the first step in the process of invading the cells.

New target for treatments

New treatments could potentially target tetraspanins such as CD63 to prevent the bacteria from attaching themselves to these white blood cells, so preventing the spread of Salmonella throughout the body.

While there is still a long way to go before such a treatment can be developed, this research has identified a new way to prevent serious infections from Salmonella, like typhoid, and help save lives.

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