Scientists have now identified the bacteria that is linked to foodborne disease in infected pregnant women which ultimately leads to fetal death or miscarriage.
Listeriosis which is caused by Listeria bacteria is 20 times more common in pregnant women; and in cancer and transplant patients, newborns and the elderly - all of them have an immune system that is already compromised.
In the case of pregnant mothers, scientists at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco finds that it's not just about the women's compromised immunity that causes their high susceptibility to the bacteria, but it's actually what they have during the pregnancy that helps listeria bacteria flourish.
This bacterial infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infections in newborns.
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Pregnant women with listeriosis usually have mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue and muscle aches.
The research team of this study headed by Anna Bakardjiev, examined pregnant guinea pigs to assess the results.
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Her previous research aimed to answer the mystery of how the bacteria invades the placenta which supposedly works as a protective sac against infectious agents.
“Given the unique immunological environment of the placenta, we hypothesized that virulence factors would be required for infection of this tissue that are not necessary for infection of other organs,” said Bakardjiev.
Indeed in this current study using the pregnant guinea pigs, the researchers discovered the protein InlP, that is secreted by the 201 Listeria genes using genomic screening. This protein surprisingly have lesser roles in the infection of other organs. But in placenta infection - it works as a promoter of the infection by increasing the amount of bacteria by 1,000-fold.
“The findings challenge the dogma that pregnant women are susceptible to listeriosis because of immune compromise,” Bakardjiev said.
The study can help understand how the virulence occurs inside the placenta, what attributes allowed the bacteria to survive and increase in the niche.
“InlP presents a novel tool that we can use to better understand the course of placental infections, which is necessary for the development of new strategies to prevent and treat listeriosis and other infection-related pregnancy complications.”
The study is published in the academic journal in Infection and Immunity.
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