Salmonella - how the body fights back

14 November 2019

New research from the University of East Anglia, supported by Earlham Institute (EI) shows how the human body powers its emergency response to salmonella infection.

A study, published today in the journal PNAS, reveals how blood stem cells respond in the first few hours following infection – by acquiring energy from bone marrow support cells. It is hoped that the findings could help form new approaches to treating people with Salmonella and other bacterial illnesses.

Lead researcher Dr Stuart Rushworth from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food poisoning worldwide. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. Most people recover without treatment but young children, the elderly and people who have immune systems that are not working properly have a greater risk of becoming severely ill and it can be deadly.

“We wanted to find out how the immune system responds to Salmonella bacterial infection. Knowing more about how our bodies respond could help develop new ways to treat people with weak immune systems, such as the elderly.”

The team collaborated with Norwich Research Park colleagues at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the Quadram Institute, to study mitochondria – tiny powerhouses that live inside cells and give them energy. They analysed the immune response to Salmonella bacterial infection, by using blood and bone marrow cells donated for research by NNUH patients.

Director of Science at EI, Prof Federica Di Palma, said: “This collaboration demonstrates how interdisciplinary research approaches are key to meeting the health needs of the future. The integrated efforts of three institutions with different scientific expertise have allowed us to understand important mechanisms used by our cells to fight bacterial infections, providing valuable insight into future therapeutic applications.”

They also worked with Salmonella infection experts from Quadram to study the way mitochondria moves between different cell types, using specialist microscopes and DNA analysis. They found that in the bone marrow where blood cells are made, support or ‘stromal’ cells were forced to transfer their power-generating mitochondria to neighboring blood stem cells.

Dr Rushworth, said: “We found that these support cells were effectively ‘charging’ the stem cells and enabling them to make millions more bacteria-fighting white blood cells. It was not previously known how blood stem cells acquire the energy they need to mount an immune response to infection. Mitochondria are like tiny batteries which power cells. In response to infection, the immune system takes mitochondria from surrounding support cells to power up the immune response.”

As well as identifying how and why the mitochondria are transferred, the study discusses the potential impact on how infections are treated in future.

“Our results provide insight into how the blood and immune system is able to respond so quickly to infection,” said Dr Rushworth. “Working out the mechanism through which this ‘power boost’ works gives us new ideas on how to strengthen the body’s fight against infection in the future. This work could help inform how older people with infection might be treated. It is an essential first step towards exploiting this biological function therapeutically in the future.”

ROS mediated PI3 Kinase activation drives Mitochondrial Transfer to Hematopoietic Stem Cells in Response to Bacterial Infection’ is published in the journal PNAS on 14 November 2019.

Notes to Editor

For further information, please contact:

Hayley London

Marketing & Communications Officer, Earlham Institute (EI)

  • +44 (0)1603 450 107

hayley.london@earlham.ac.uk

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.

www.earlham.ac.uk / @EarlhamInst

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is a UK Top 25 university and is ranked in the top 50 globally for research citations. Known for its world-leading research and good student experience, it was awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework and is a leading member of Norwich Research Park, one of Europe’s biggest concentrations of researchers in the fields of environment, health and plant science. www.uea.ac.uk.

www.uea.ac.uk / @uniofeastanglia

The Quadram Institute (quadram.ac.uk) is an interdisciplinary research centre at the forefront of a new era of food and health research. It brings together researchers and clinicians under one roof and houses one of Europe’s largest endoscopy units and a clinical trial facility. It focuses on lifelong health – from birth and throughout the lifecourse, increasing healthspan as well as lifespan. It undertakes both fundamental and translational research working with industry to accelerate innovation and bring novel therapeutics and new food products to patients and consumers.

Based on the Norwich Research Park, The Quadram Institute is a partnership between Quadram Institute Bioscience, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of East Anglia and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Four interconnected interdisciplinary research themes in Quadram Institute Bioscience deliver a pipeline of research in plants, microbes, food and health: microbes in the food chain; the gut and the microbiome; food innovation and population health.

Norwich Research Park is home to over 12,000 people including 80 companies and 3,000 researchers and clinicians.

Norwich Research Park is a partnership between the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, four independent world-renowned research institutes namely the John Innes Centre, the Quadram Institute and the Earlham Institute (all strategically funded by the Biotechnical & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of United Kingdom Research & Innovation (UKRI)) and The Sainsbury Laboratory linked to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The BBSRC - UKRI and the John Innes Foundation are also partners.

The main strength of Norwich Research Park is the concentration of world-leading scientists, entrepreneurs and business. We continue to attract new partners and businesses to the Park as part of this innovation cluster.

An Enterprise Zone location providing business rates benefits, the Park includes 52 hectares of development land, ideal for expanding companies needing bespoke office space and research facilities.

www.norwichresearchpark.com