New discovery in the microbiology of serious human disease

02 Oct 2014 10:50:17.613

Previously undiscovered secrets of how human cells interact with a bacterium which causes a serious human disease have been revealed in new research by microbiologists at The University of Nottingham.

The scientists at the University’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences have shed new light on how two proteins found on many human cells are targeted by the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis which can cause life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia.

The proteins, laminin receptor (LAMR1) and galectin-3 (Gal-3) are found in and on the surface of many human cells. Previous research has shown they play diverse roles in a variety of infectious and non-infectious diseases. For example, the LAMR1 is a key receptor targeted by disease-causing pathogens and their toxins and is also a receptor for the spread of cancer around the body and for the development of Alzheimer’s. 
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Using the latest bimolecular fluorescence and confocal imaging techniques, the researchers have shown that these two separate proteins can form pairs made up of two similar molecules (homodimers) or one of each molecule (heterodimers) which are targeted by Neisseria meningitidis. They have also identified critical components which cause the formation of these pairs of molecules.

These new mechanistic insights into the three-way relationship between proteins and bacterial pathogens could have significant implications in the fields of infection, vaccination and cancer biology.

Associate Professor of Microbiology, Dr Karl Wooldridge, said: “We have shown evidence for the self and mutual association of these two important proteins and their distinctive surface distribution on the human cell. We’ve also demonstrated that they are targeted by the serious human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis. This is significant because these proteins could potentially be used to develop new vaccines and treatments which could sabotage the colonisation of these dangerous bacteria, and also which could protect the blood-brain barrier which is disrupted in cases of bacterial meningitis.”

Co-investigator Dr Jafar Mahdavi added: “One of the problems of studying laminin receptors is that there are at least two forms of LAMR1 found on the cell surface, called 37LRP and 67LR, and many previous studies have not sufficiently distinguished between the two forms. There are antibodies available but the specificity for the different types of laminin receptor had not previously been adequately reported. In our research we were able to identify which antibody detects which specific type of receptor. 

The paper, published today in the Royal Society journal Open Biology, will inform the whole field of laminin receptor research, not just infection. The team at Nottingham says that by examining bacteria as model organisms which have learned how to manipulate cell biology systems, they may gain insights into how medical science can manipulate cell systems for cancer treatment, Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases associated with the laminin receptor. 

‘Deciphering the complex three-way interaction between the non-integrin laminin receptor, galectin-3 and Neisseria meningitidis’ is available online

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities. It is ranked in the world’s top 1% of universities by the QS World University Rankings.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Karl Wooldridge in the School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 823 0743,;; or Dr Jafar Mahdavi

Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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