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article imageFighting food-poisoning: taking on botulism

By Tim Sandle     Jun 25, 2014 in Science
Irvine - The means by which bacterial toxins that cause food-borne botulism are absorbed through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream has been discovered by researchers. This could lead to a new way of blocking the toxin.
Botulism is a rare and often fatal paralytic illness due to a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can appear in rotted, uncooked foods and in soil. Most worldwide cases relate to food poisoning. In addition, botulinum toxin is also a potential biological weapon. Severe botulism leads to reduced movement of the muscles of respiration, and hence problems with gas exchange. This may be experienced as difficulty in breathing and respiratory failure.
The mechanism through which botulism is absorbed into the blood has been identified by using a crystal structure of a complex protein compound of botulinum neurotoxin. Via this scientists found that these compounds — called clostridial hemagglutinin (HA) — bind with cell proteins in the intestines of patients. This binding initiates a process that disrupts the close intercellular seals so that the complex toxin molecules can slip through the cell barrier and into either the intestines or bloodstream.
In further tests, the researchers designed a mutated version of the botulism compound, based on the novel crystal structure, in which HA would not bind with cell proteins. Test in mice showed that the toxin was not infective. The researchers are hopeful that this approach could lead to the identification of small molecules able to stop HA from binding with cell proteins, and thus prevent the toxin invasion.
The research was conducted by scientists based at U. C Irvine School of Medicine. The findings have been reported in the journal Science, in a paper titled “Molecular basis for disruption of E-cadherin adhesion by botulinum neurotoxin A complex.”
More about food poisioning, Botulism, clostridium, Toxins
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