Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Researchers from the University of Bristol in England have identified the molecular process that transports mouth bacteria through the blood stream to cause infective endocarditis, a form of heart disease.
Infective endocarditis is a type of cardiovascular disease where bacteria from the mouth travel through the blood stream and can cause blood clots to form in heart valves. The condition has a mortality rate of nearly 30 percent with treatment and is fatal if left untreated.
Researchers used the giant X-ray microscope at the U.K. national synchrotron facility Diamond Light Source, to see the structure and dynamics of the CshA protein responsible for targeting the oral bacterium Streptococcus gordonil to tissues in the heart.
The study found that CshA acts as a "molecular lasso" enabling S. gordonil to bind to the surface of human cells, which are the first steps in bacterium being able to cause disease.
"What our work has revealed is a completely new mechanism by which S. gordonil and related bacteria are able to bind to human tissues," Dr. Catherine Back of Bristol University's School of Oral and Dental Sciences and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "We have named this the 'catch-clamp' mechanism."
Researchers were able to determine that CshA is very flexible and its flexibility allows it to be cast out from the surface of the bacterium like a lasso. When this happens, CshA and fibronectin are in close proximity and bind together.
"With the molecular level insight that our study provides, it is now a realistic possibility that we can begin to develop anti-adhesive agents that target disease-causing Streptococcus and related bacteria," Dr. Angela Nobbs, of the School of Oral and Dental Sciences and co-author of the study, said in a press release.
The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.