Earlier this week it was reported that US researchers had made an interesting discovery regarding the way our cells in our gut fight off the toxins produced by Clostridium difficile. It was reported in ‘Nature Medicine’ that a chemical known as GSNO (S-nitrosoglutathione), which is produced naturally by the cells in the gut, was able to deactivate the toxin and prevent inflammation and diarrhoea.
|C. difficile vegetative cells (pink) and spores (green)|
This discovery means that this could offer a new way to treat the bacterium other than using conventional treatments, such as antibiotics (which resistance is causing a problem).
It’s also due to antibiotics (a patient may be being treated for a chest infection) that can cause a toxic C. difficile to multiply in the gut (due to antibiotics wiping out most of the ‘healthy/good’ bacteria).
Most strains of C. difficile are harmless and are part of the normal ‘healthy/good’ gut bacteria, however if a toxic strain is exposed to a patient on antibiotics then this can cause disease.
|Image 1 C.difficle toxin infecting a cell|
So how does GSNO prevent the toxin from making us ill? Well the C.difficile toxin is basically ‘too big’ to enter the cell, so it has to ‘cleave’ into a smaller chunk that can enter the cell to cause inflammation and diarrhoea. (See image 1).
However, GSNO prevents the toxin from splitting into a smaller chunk. This means that it can not enter the cell and cause inflammation and diarrhoea (See image 2).
|Image 2 GSNO preventing the C. difficile toxin from entering the cell|
If this molecule can be further studied then it could give light to new therapies to deal with and prevent C. difficile infection in patients. This type of therapy is a long way off, but it is exciting! Unlike antibiotics, this kind of therapy would not give rise to antibiotic resistance and could be a vital step to help reduce the disease.
Reference/further info: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14589385 (accessed: 23rd August 2011)