Genetic evidence for single bacteria cause of sepsis identified for the first time (Noticias)

Identifican por primera vez evidencias genéticas que demuestran que una sola célula bacteriana es capaz de causar sepsis.

Resumen: Un equipo internacional de académicos ha estudiado cómo las infecciones localizadas pueden convertirse en la peligrosa enfermedad sistémica ‘sepsis’, y ha identificado por primera vez ―a través de evidencias genéticas― que una sola célula bacteriana puede ser la causa. El estudio examinó en ratones, los eventos que llevan a la sepsis por Streptococcus pneumoniae ―un patógeno humano importante. Encontraron que en la mayoría de los casos, la sepsis fue iniciada por una sola célula bacteriana.

Summary: An international team of academics has studied how localized infections can turn into the dangerous systematic disease ‘sepsis’, and has identified for the first time through genetic evidence, that a single bacteria could be the cause. The study examined the events that lead to sepsis by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a major human pathogen, in mice. They found that in most cases sepsis was started by a single bacterial cell.


The study, which has been published in the academic journal PLOS Pathogens, was an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Departments of Genetics, Infection Immunity and Inflammation and Mathematics at the University of Leicester, Professor Richard Moxon at the University of Oxford and scientists from overseas including the University of Siena.

Professor Oggioni said: «Our data in experimental infection models indicate that we do not need only strategies which target many bacteria when it is too late, but that early intervention schemes which prevent the one-single cell that starts the disease process might provide substantial benefit to the patient.

«In this work we have for the first time provided genetic evidence for a single cell origin of bacterial invasive infection. The scenario was hypothesized over 50 years ago, but so far only phenotypic and statistical evidence could be obtained for this event.»

Under normal circumstances, when different bacteria are used in models of experimental infection of hosts who have not previously encountered the same pathogen, the vast majority is destroyed rapidly by the host’s innate immune system.

In the researcher’s model, a dose of one million bacteria is needed to induce systemic disease in about half of the hosts in the study.

This is in stark contrast to a much lower number of bacteria thought to make up the starting «seed» that leads to the development of systemic infection — and the assumption is that there must be one or more «bottlenecks» in the development of the disease.

To investigate these bottlenecks, the researchers injected mice with a mix of three different variants of S. pneumoniae. About half of the mice developed sepsis and in almost all cases the bacteria causing sepsis were derived from only one of the three variants used in the initial challenge.

Using statistical analysis as well as direct DNA sequencing, the researchers could show that in most cases the bacterial population causing sepsis was started by a single Streptococcus pneumoniae cell.

When the researchers looked closer at how the immune system resists most injected bacteria, they found that macrophages, a type of immune cell that can gobble up bacteria, and specifically macrophages in the spleen, are the main contributors to an efficient immune response to this pathogen.

Their findings suggest that if bacteria survive this initial counter-attack, a single ‘founder’ bacterium multiplies and re-enters the bloodstream, where its descendants come under strong selective pressure that dynamically shapes the subsequent bacterial population — resulting in the sepsis.

The data also suggests that the single bacterium leading to sepsis has no obvious characteristics that give it an advantage over the 999,999 others, but that random events determine which of the injected bacteria survives and multiplies to cause disease.

It is believed that the findings, suggesting that the development of sepsis starting from a single founding cell which survives the immune system’s initial counter-attack in mice, could also potentially apply to human systemic infections.

This information could prove vital to understanding sepsis, as the causes of the disease are still largely unknown to the scientific community.

Dr Oggioni added: «Knowing that there is a moment when a single bacterial cell escapes «normal» immune surveillance at the beginning of each invasive infection is an important paradigm and essential information which, in our opinion, should lead to changes in therapeutic protocols in order to maximise success of treatment outcome.»

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Journal reference: Gerlini A, Colomba L, Furi L, Braccini T, Sousa Manso A, Pammolli A, Wang B, Vivi A, Tassini M, van Rooijen N, Pozzi G, Ricci S, Andrew PW, Koedel U, Moxon ER, Oggioni MR. The Role of Host and Microbial Factors in the Pathogenesis of Pneumococcal Bacteraemia Arising from a Single Bacterial Cell BottleneckPLoS Pathogens 2014; 10(3): e1004026 DOI:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004026

Journal abstract: The pathogenesis of bacteraemia after challenge with one million pneumococci of three isogenic variants was investigated. Sequential analyses of blood samples indicated that most episodes of bacteraemia were monoclonal events providing compelling evidence for a single bacterial cell bottleneck at the origin of invasive disease. With respect to host determinants, results identified novel properties of splenic macrophages and a role for neutrophils in early clearance of pneumococci. Concerning microbial factors, whole genome sequencing provided genetic evidence for the clonal origin of the bacteraemia and identified SNPs in distinct sub-units of F0/F1 ATPase in the majority of the ex vivo isolates. When compared to parental organisms of the inoculum, ex-vivo pneumococci with mutant alleles of the F0/F1 ATPase had acquired the capacity to grow at low pH at the cost of the capacity to grow at high pH. Although founded by a single cell, the genotypes of pneumococci in septicaemic mice indicate strong selective pressure for fitness, emphasising the within-host complexity of the pathogenesis of invasive disease.

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