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NIAID-Funded Researchers Discover an Additional Way That S. Aureus Evades Immune System Attacks

S. aureus under the microscope
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can evade host immune systems in several ways, leading to severe infections.
Credit: CDC/ Matthew J. Arduino, DRPH

The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus is a leading cause of bloodstream, lower respiratory tract, skin, and soft tissue infections because of its particular ability to multiply and persist in host tissues. To survive, staphylococci evade attacks from its host’s immune system in several ways. A team of NIAID-funded researchers at the University of Chicago, led by Dr. Olaf Schneewind, reported the discovery of a previously unknown method that staphylococci use to survive—synthesizing the molecule adenosine.

In healthy people, the body routinely produces adenosine during infections to regulate the immune system’s response and suppress inflammation. However, if too much adenosine builds up in the body, the immune system can become impaired and unable to fight infections as effectively.

Dr. Schneewind’s team provided evidence that both S. aureus and Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, synthesize adenosine to escape host immune responses. This study yields additional insight into the ways that S. aureus survives in hosts and may suggest how similar pathogens subvert host immune responses. Learning more about pathogens’ survival strategies can help scientists discover new treatments for infections.

Thammavongsa V, Kern JW, Missiakas DM, and Schneewind O. Staphylococcus aureus synthesizes adenosine to escape host immune responses. The Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2009 0: jem.20090097v1-jem.20090097.

Last Updated September 14, 2010