Staph bacteria could trigger diabetes symptoms
The study, published in the journal mBio, adds to growing evidence that bacteria and viruses play a big role in causing non-infectious diseases, like cervical cancer
and stomach ulcers.
Researchers found that when you chronically expose rabbits to a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, they develop the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes
, such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and inflammation.
Lead researcher Patrick Schlievert, professor of microbiology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, says: “We basically reproduced type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen.”
The study is important because we already know that the human microbiome changes with obesity
and that one of these changes is the increase in staph colonisation and infections. Now, the new findings suggest the bacterium may play a role in the progression to type 2 diabetes.
Professor Schlievert notes that as people gain weight, they are likely to have large amounts of staph bacteria living on their skin, and that “people who are colonised by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing.”
In previous work, Professor Schlievert and colleagues had shown that superantigens, the toxins that staph bacteria produce, disrupt the immune system
and are also the main reason why staph infections like toxic shock syndrome, sepsis and endocarditis can kill.
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Therapies that eliminate staph bacteria could prevent and treat type 2 diabetes
In their new study, the team shows that superantigens cause inflammation by interacting with fat
cells and the immune system
. This systemic inflammation is what leads to insulin resistance and other hallmarks of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that levels of staph superantigens in people heavily colonised with the bacterium were comparable to those that caused the rabbits in their study to develop type 2 diabetes symptoms.
They suggest therapies that eliminate staph bacteria (or at least neutralize its superantigens) may also prevent or treat type 2 diabetes.
Professor Schlievert explains: “I think we have a way to intercede here and alter the course of diabetes. We’re working on a vaccine against the superantigens and we believe that this type of vaccine could prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.”
He and his colleagues are now planning to test a gel that could be used to eliminate staph from human skin. The gel contains glycerol monolaurate (known to kill staph bacteria on contact) Then, they plan to test whether use of the gel will improve blood sugar
levels in pre-diabetics.
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