New insights into why adolescents carry meningitis-causing bacteria

University of York scientists have shed new light on why teenagers and young adults are particularly susceptible to meningitis and septicaemia.

The team from the University's Department of Biology has discovered a novel metabolic pathway in the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis that may explain why this age group is particularly at risk of infection.

The results of the research, which was supported by the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2), are reported in the journal Molecular Microbiology.

N. meningitidis is a major cause of meningitis and septicaemia, and a leading cause of infectious disease among teenagers and young adults. While it is well known that these bacteria are found in large numbers in the among adolescents, the reasons for this are unknown.

Lead author Dr James Moir, from York's Department of Biology, said: "We have found that N. meningitidis can supplement its growth via metabolism of the small fatty acid propionic acid. The propionic acid is generated by other, strictly anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not need oxygen to live) that become more prevalent in adolescents.

"Through our research, we identify the responsible and show that there is a correlation between N. meningitidis and propionic acid generating anaerobic Porphyromonas and Fusobacterium. The anaerobes are acquired gradually with age, peaking in adolescence."

Dr Maria-Chiara Catenazzi, from York's Department of Biology, said: "The capacity of N. meningitidis to colonise adolescents/ is important for its transmission and disease epidemiology. This increase in carriage in young adulthood is frequently attributed to increased social interaction and contact in this age group. While this is no doubt true, here we present for the first time a mechanistic explanation for why N. meningitidis carriage varies with age, based on the genetic properties of N. meningitidis and co-colonising microbes in the human host."

More information: "A large genomic island allows Neisseria meningitidis to utilize propionic acid, with implications for colonization of the human nasopharynx." Catenazzi MC, et al. Mol Microbiol. 2014 Jul;93(2):346-55. DOI: 10.1111/mmi.12664. Epub 2014 Jun 27.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

Oct 24, 2014

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

Oct 24, 2014

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments