Bacteria can influence our bodies in ways even experts still struggle to understand. Invaders can ravage a system, some attacking with such speed and fury that they can overwhelm and kill their hosts despite all efforts to stop them. In some cases, the damage and waste products bacteria leave behind could be equally as devastating. They might even contribute to many different autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases.
Ever see a floor or a countertop that’s gone too long without maintenance, and despite nothing sticky or gross getting on there, it still needs a good scrubbing to get clean? That grime is dust, grease, and biofilm, which occurs when bacteria clump together and form a protective barrier around themselves. Researchers have observed biofilms on nearly every type of surface, but until recently, they were unaware that bacteria were producing these compounds inside our guts.
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan recently published an article in PLOS Pathogens on the links between bacterial biofilms and human disease. Their research expands upon previous findings that salmonella in the gut can trigger reactive arthritis, an autoimmune condition that causes painful inflammation in the joints. In the course of their investigation, the team came across an even bigger discovery.
Salmonella biofilm, composed of a compound called curli, is an amyloid, the type of protein that contributes to destructive plaques in the brain. Previous research has connected amyloid proteins to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Some experts have theorized that certain bacteria in the gut may cause the body to produce excessive amounts of amyloid in the brain; now, they’re investigating the possibility that the bacteria themselves are producing much of these proteins.
The researchers still have many questions about how curli can cause so much damage, but they may have found a genetic connection to the autoimmune component. People with a gene called HLA-B27 might be predisposed to wage stronger immune responses against curli; whether HLA-B27 increases risk factors for both reactive arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases remains to be seen.
Bacteria could play an even bigger role in human disease than previously imagined. Research into their biofilms and the effects they also have on our health could improve our understanding of numerous autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases. Finding ways to improve our fight against certain bacteria could be the next logical step toward preventing a host of ailments—including those we still have no idea are connected to this situation.
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