MAYWOOD, Ill., June 14 (UPI) -- U.S. medical scientists say they've discovered how some types of bacteria boost the effectiveness of the human immune system.
Loyola University Professor Katherine Knight and colleagues said while some bacteria cause infections, most are harmless or perform beneficial functions. Such beneficial pathogens are called commensal bacteria and one of their most important functions is boosting the immune system. But until now, scientists have not known how such bacteria accomplish that.
Knight, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the university's Stritch School of Medicine, said she and her team studied bacteria called Bacillus, found in the digestive tract. They found that when they exposed immune system cells called B lymphocytes to bacterial spores, the B cells began dividing and reproducing.
The researchers said they also found molecules on the surfaces of the spores bind to molecules on the surfaces of B cells, causing the B cells to divide and multiply. And B cells are one of the key components of the immune system, producing antibodies that fight harmful viruses and bacteria.
The scientists said their findings suggest the possibility that some day, bacterial spores could be used to treat people with weakened or undeveloped immune systems and might be able to boost the immune system to fight tumors.
The study that included Associate Professor Adam Driks, Kari Severson and Michael Mallozzi appears in the June 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology.