Flesh-eating bacteria thrives on your suffering; the chemicals you release when in excruciating pain actually feed them
07/10/2018 // Carol Anderson // Views

If the word flesh-eating bacteria isn't scary enough, try bacteria which find happiness – or more accurately, satiation – when you're in pain. It appears that the popular flesh-eating bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes does not only cause strep throat but also initiates a disease called necrotizing fasciitis.

According to previous research, a certain type of toxin is being released by the bacteria at the onset of their flesh-eating spree, which causes excruciating pain to the host. The S. pyogenes, more commonly known as Group A strep, thrives in this situation. The toxin released into the body restrains the immune system from doing its job, thus creating a perfect environment for the microbe to reproduce and kill more tissues.

Examining the disruption in the system

Using mice as test subjects, researchers found that the toxin emitted by Group A strep can activate some pain-related neurons to trigger extreme pain. Now called streptolysin S (SLS), the toxin does something even worse. Results showed that using the same pain-related neurons, SLS has the ability to disrupt communication with the immune system by producing a certain peptide.

This means that while the bacteria is working on infecting and harming the system, the body's call to action for disease-fighting cells is muted, which gives free rein for the bacteria. In addition, the experts said, " The peptide also interfered with normal function in the immune cells that did manage to reach the infection site, preventing them from dispensing an enzyme that would kill the invasive bacteria."


Senior author of the study, Isaac Chiu, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical Schoolconfirmed that the neuronal signal impairs the alarm system that notifies the body to help stop the infection from spreading throughout the body.

Aside from Group A strep, there are other types of bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis, including ClostridiumStaphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli. Once the bacteria enter the body, infection begins. It can spread rapidly once it attacks the connective tissue surrounding nerves, muscles, blood vessels, and fats.

Extreme pain can be felt during the early stages of the infection. However, once it progresses, the mortality rate can easily go up to as high as 32 percent. (Read: Boosting immune system with natural methods offers many health benefits.)

Turning the tables around

Since the researchers discovered that the neurons play a big role in this scenario, they suspected that it was possible to impair the bacteria's plan of attack as a way to treat necrotizing fasciitis. Basically, they believe that suppressing the pain and stopping the release of the peptide may allow the body's defense mechanisms to continue functioning.

They tested this theory with a follow-up study. They infected mice with the Group A strep bacteria, and as well as a compound called botulinum neurotoxin A (Botox), a toxin known for blocking the release by the nerve of the chemical acetylcholine. According to the findings, the Botox prevented the bacteria to thrive.

Another experiment, which used a different compound to block the effects of the peptide, showed that it is, in fact, possible to prevent the bacteria from going undetected. The researchers concluded that this may be a possible treatment for the terrible disease.

Chiu said the study proves how closely intertwined the nervous and immune systems are, particularly in terms of fighting off infections in the body. He added, "Our study also underscores the therapeutic potential of modulating one system to affect the other as a way to treat [an] infection."

Discover more skin-crawling studies on bacteria by visiting Research.news today.

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