AsianScientist (Jul. 12, 2016) – A deadly bacteria that can be picked up by a simple sniff can travel to the brain and spinal cord in just 24 hours, researchers in Australia have found.
The pathogenic bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes the potentially fatal disease melioidosis, kills 89,000 people around the world each year. In Southeast Asia, 50 percent of the population may be positive for melioidosis, and in places like Cambodia, the mortality rate is as high as 50 percent.
Previously, researchers did not understand how B. pseudomallei traveled to the brain and spinal cord, or just how quickly. The study, led by Griffith University researchers and published in Immunity and Infection, could mean further discoveries in how other bacteria such as Staphylococcus also end up in the spinal cord.
Dr. James St John, head of the University’s Clem Jones Center for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, said that the scary thing is this bacteria could slip into your system without you even knowing it.
“Imagine walking around and you sniff it up from the soil and the next day you’ve got this bacteria in your brain and damaging the spinal cord,” he said.
The research team studied mice to find that B. pseudomallei travels from the nerves in the nasal cavity before moving to the brain stem and then into the spinal cord.
Professor Ifor Beacham from the Institute for Glycomics, who was involved in the study, said that it had long been known that viruses could reach the brain via the olfactory mucosa in the nose, which is very close to the brain.
“Our latest results represent the first direct demonstration of transit of a bacterium from the olfactory mucosa to the central nervous system (CNS) via the trigeminal nerve; bacteria were found a considerable distance from the olfactory mucosa, in the brain stem, and even more remarkably in the spinal cord,” Beacham said.
“These results add considerably to our understanding of this particular disease. It seems likely, however, that other bacteria may also transit from nose to CNS, although this has yet to be determined.”
Now that the pathway is known, the researchers will work on ways to stimulate supporting cells that could remove the bacteria. They are also looking to study whether the bacteria that cause back pain also can enter the brainstem and spinal cord via the trigeminal nerve.
Source: Griffith University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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