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New step forward in search for solution to infection puzzle

Visit  The University of York website

5 August 2008

Scientists at the University of York have helped to reveal more about the way bacteria can attach to human tissues.

The study could help in the development of new treatments for serious heart conditions such as infective endocarditis.

The researchers studied the way a protein found on the surface of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus binds to a human protein called fibronectin. Their discovery is an important step in understanding how bacteria attach to the surface of blood vessels during infection.

The high-resolution structures of parts of the bacterial protein in complex with multiple fibronectin domains reveals the efficiency with which the bacterial molecule can bind several copies of the human protein, a feature thought to play a role in infection.

Dr Jennifer Potts of the Departments of Biology and Chemistry at York, who led the research said: “Interactions of S. aureus with fibronectin were first reported more than 30 years ago, and yet we still don’t understand precisely how and why the bacteria target this human protein.

“Our studies provide a significant step toward solving that issue and could help the future development of new treatments for rare but serious conditions such as infective endocarditis, an infection of the lining or valves of the heart.”

The research is published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The work, which was funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust, was undertaken by Dr Richard Bingham and Dr Nicola Meenan (Biology, York) in collaboration with other scientists at the Universities of York, Oxford, St Andrews, UNAM and the TAMU Health Science Centre, Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Houston.

The research used the York Structural Biology Laboratory (YSBL) at the University of York and facilities at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • The article ‘Crystal structures of fibronectin-binding sites from Staphylococcus aureus FnBPA in complex with fibronectin domains’ is available at http://www.pnas.org
  • The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is the nation’s heart charity, dedicated to saving lives through pioneering research, patient care, campaigning for change and by providing vital information. But we urgently need help. We rely on donations of time and money to continue our life-saving work. Because together we can beat heart disease. For more information, please visit http://bhf.org.uk
  • About BBSRC: The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
  • The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk
  • The University of York’s Department of Biology is one of the leading centres for biological teaching and research in the UK. The Department both teaches degree courses and undertakes research across the whole spectrum of modern Biology, from molecular genetics and biochemistry to ecology. Its biomedical research includes an Immunology and Infection Unit (jointly with the Hull York Medical School), work on infertility and three research professors funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and York Against Cancer.
  • The Department of Chemistry at the University of York has an excellent reputation for teaching and research. In the last Research Assessment Exercise the department was awarded a 5 rating and was rated by the NSS as the leading chemistry department in the UK for student satisfaction. It is led by prize-winners in all areas of chemistry. It has over 50 members of academic staff, more than 400 undergraduate students, 160 graduates and 80 research fellows.

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