University of Leicester and Trinity College Dublin researchers have provided promising data in the fight against pneumonia, meningtis and septicaemia--and the discovery could lead to a new understanding of how the body's immune system responds to infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae and pave the way for more effective vaccines. The research has been published in PLoS Pathogens.
Efforts to vaccinate against infection by the Streptococcus pneumoniae have been hampered because there are 90 known strains of S pneumoniae. Currently available vaccines only deal with a small fraction of these strains, according to Ed Lavelle of Trinity College. Lavelle adds that these vaccines have worked well, but the other strains tend to emerge to replace those knocked out by the latest vaccine, according to the Irish Times.
However, the researchers now say they have shown that the bacterial toxin pneumolysin triggers an immune response by activating a recently discovered group of proteins, called the NLRP3 inflammasome. Once activated, the inflammasome provides protection against infection caused by this pathogen.
"This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of the immune response to Streptococcus pneumoniae; a human pathogen of global significance, responsible for over one million infant deaths annually and the major cause of illness and death in the elderly from infections of the respiratory tract," says Aras Kadioglu from the University of Leicester. "In order to develop improved pneumococcal vaccines for both the very young and the elderly, it is essential to understand how this bacterium interacts with the host immune system."