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Cannibalistic cells may help prevent infection.

Salmonella, the causative agent of salmonellosis, results in many of the intestinal infections and food-related illnesses reported in the United States. Approximately 600 people die each year as a result of these infections, accounting for roughly 30 percent of all reported food-related deaths. Salmonellosis is particularly dangerous in older people.

The new findings are among the first to demonstrate that a process called autophagy prevents harmful bacteria such as Salmonella from becoming successful pathogens. The findings also suggest that a decrease in autophagy--such as in older people and in patients with Crohn's disease and inflammatory bowel disorder--may lead to abnormalities in the way the gastrointestinal tract deals with bacterial infections.

Autophagy is a method by which cells devour their own unwanted or damaged parts. It is a highly regulated and normal process by which cell remain healthy by performing routine housekeeping. The process appears to be an adaptive response that our bodies employ during times of stress or starvation; the process also helps to protect us against cancer and neuro- degenerative diseases.

Dr. Beth Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas in Dallas, says: "It's known that as you get older you become more susceptible to infectious diseases and also that autophagy decreases. In this paper, we've shown that signaling pathways that extend life and protect against bacterial invaders do so by triggering autophagy. This suggests that therapeutic strategies to increase autophagy may be effective in defeating harmful bacteria that can enter inside cells."

It is unclear why older people become more susceptible to infections, but research has shown that autophagy does decrease with age. It is possible, Dr. Levine suggests, that that by reversing or regulating this process, researchers could help patients with weakened immune systems avoid becoming more susceptible to infections.

(Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 25, 2009.)
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Dec 22, 2010
Words:317
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