The researchers of a new study out of the University of Iowa have discovered why staphylococcal infective endocarditis is so lethal. This infection is a deadly bacterial infection of the heart valves and kills almost 20,000 Americans every year until now. Until now researchers have been unsure what caused such fatal side effects. In this study, the researchers found that toxins, known as superantigens, are produced from the bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, could be the reason.
The superantigen’s function is to disrupt the immune system. The new study shows that in endocarditis there is a superantigen that is over activating the immune system. As a result the excessive immune response is contributing in a significant way to destructive aspects of the disease. This includes capillary leakage, low blood pressure, shock, fever, destruction of the heart valves, and strokes that could occur in about half of patients.
In conducting this research, the researchers blocked the superantigens from working in order to see if they were able to prevent strokes related to endocarditis in animals. A specific strain of methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) was used by researchers since it is very common in humans. In addition, the researchers looked into versions of bacteria that are not able to produce superantigens. By comparing these strains, researchers arrived at the conclusion that the presence of superantigens that were produced by some strains of staph bacteria contributed to the deadly side effects of sepsis and endocarditis. To be more specific, the culprit was the superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin C (SEC).
As a result of this researcher, the researchers believe that either therapeutics or vaccination could be a strategy to block the harmful effects of the superantigens. This would give them a opportunity to do something about the more serious complications that result from staph infections.
Disrupting the immune system is how SEC causes lethal side effects. It can cause low blood pressure and can contribute to the toxicity of the cells that line the heart. It is the hope of the researchers that this discovery may be able to help future treatment plans to prevent the dangerous side effects of this infection.
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