Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered a mechanism through which meningitis-causing bacteria can evade our immune system. In laboratory tests, they found that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae (image) respond to increasing temperatures by producing safeguards that keep them from getting killed. This may prime their defenses against our immune system and increase their chances of survival, the researchers say. The findings were published online on April 29, 2021 in PLoS Pathogens. The open-access article is titled “RNA Thermosensors Facilitate Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae Immune Evasion” (https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1009513). "This discovery helps to increase our understanding of the mechanisms these bacteria use to evade our normal immune defenses," says co-corresponding author Edmund Loh, PhD, researcher in the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology at Karolinska Institutet. "It could be an important piece of the puzzle in examining what turns these usually harmless bacteria into lethal killers." Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Bacterial meningitis is one of the most severe types and a major cause of death and disability in children worldwide. Several kinds of bacteria can cause the infection, including the respiratory pathogens Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae, which are related to some 200,000 meningitis-caused deaths annually. These two bacteria often reside in the nose and throat of healthy people without making them ill. In some cases, they spread into the bloodstream and cause invasive diseases, but the reasons for this remain largely unknown.
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