This is how the body protects itself from urinary tract infections
Some people are more prone to cystitis than others. Some are even infected with urinary tract infections at regular intervals. A Swiss research team has now found the cause of the increased vulnerability. A protein seems to make this difference.
In a study, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) showed how the body fights cystitis. The results suggest that a protein called uromodulin plays a key role in this. However, only 70 percent of all people are able to produce this protein in large quantities. The results were presented in the journal Science.
Cystitis can be dangerous
Urinary tract infections are not only annoying and painful, with recurring inflammation there is a risk that resistant germs will settle in the body, because a bladder infection is currently mainly treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, urinary tract infections can result in dangerous complications, such as blood poisoning, which can be life-threatening.
How does bladder infection develop?
In most cases, the infection is triggered by so-called uropathogenic E. coli bacteria. This type of bacteria has numerous filiform processes (pili) with which the pathogens cling to the cells of the bladder, ureter or urethra and thus set the inflammation in motion.
Protective protein discovered
In the current study, the Swiss research team deciphered how the protein uromodulin manages to prevent such inflammation. The protein binds to the pili (single pilus; appendage outside the cell) of the bacteria, which means that they can no longer cling to the cells of the urinary tract. "Although it was known beforehand that binding would take place and that this would probably contribute to the protective function, no further details were known," explains student author Gregor Weiss.
A magnet for E. coli bacteria
There are certain sugar chains on the surface of the uromodulin protein, to which the filiform processes of the E. coli bacteria react strongly and immediately bind to them. Especially when uromodulin is produced in large quantities, the protein literally envelops the bacterium and makes it harmless.
"Shielded in this way, the bacteria can no longer bind to the cells in the urinary tract and therefore do not trigger an infection," emphasizes Weiss. The enveloped bacteria and proteins form large clumps that presumably are simply excreted in the urine, the researchers describe.
Why do some people suffer from cystitis again and again?
According to the research team, only around 70 percent of all people have a gene in their genome that enables uromodulin to be produced in large quantities. Accordingly, people with this gene have a lower risk of contracting a urinary tract infection.
Antibiotic-free treatment for cystitis is conceivable
The findings open up a new approach to treating cystitis. "From our analyzes, we now know that the bacteria with their pili recognize not only mannose but also other sugars on the uromodulin," adds PhD student Jessica Stanisich from the study team. From this it can be deduced that treatment with combined sugar preparations could render the bacteria harmless. (vb)
Read also: Effective home remedies for cystitis.
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- ETH Zurich: How the body fights cystitis (published: July 2nd, 2020), ethz.ch
- Gregor L. Weiss, Jessica J. Stanisich, Maximilian M. Sauer, u.a .: Architecture and function of human uromodulin filaments in urinary tract infections; in: Science, 2020, science.sciencemag.org