Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Assistant Professor Brandon Jutras and his laboratory at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg have been analyzing the ongoing Lyme disease epidemic and have found a possible missing factor in its spread, according to recent findings published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
“This discovery furthers our understanding of how Borrelia burgdorferi causes inflammation and disease,” lead study author Mari Davis said in a statement. “It is a testament to how unique this bacterium is and how we need to keep working to understand more about what is going on behind the scenes in order to develop future diagnostics and treatments.”
In 2019, Jutras identified peptidoglycan, the mesh-like bag made by bacteria to protect the inside of their cell, as the likely cause of the most common late-stage Lyme disease symptoms—inflammation and Lyme arthritis.
In this newest development, his lab discovered a protein—NapA (or, neutrophil-attracting protein A)—that plays an amplifying role in causing inflammation in patients with Lyme arthritis. The immunomodulatory molecule can “recruit” immune cells, or neutrophils, toward the inflammatory peptidoglycan, according to the study authors.
The laboratory tests showed that neutrophils rapidly migrate toward the side with NapA, proving that the protein is able to give off chemical signals that attract neutrophils in the direction of it and the peptidoglycan.
Virginia Tech researchers identify a missing piece of the Lyme disease puzzle. Virginia Tech. Published May 13, 2021. Accessed June 14, 2021. https://vtx.vt.edu/articles/2021/04/fralinlifesci-lyme-disease-missing-protein-identified.html