Lyme disease is the most reported vector-borne disease in the country. Over the past 20 years, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in both the number of reported cases and the geographic distribution of the disease. In Virginia, the disease is transmitted by blacklegged ticks, which are infected with the Lyme disease-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
Virginia Tech Assistant Professor Brandon Jutras and his lab have continued to tackle the Lyme disease epidemic over the past year, and they have recently identified another missing piece of the Lyme disease puzzle. This discovery furthers our understanding of how Borrelia burgdorferi causes inflammation and disease. It is a testament to how unique that 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 according to Jutras.
In this newest development, the lab discovered a protein associated with the peptidoglycan of Borrelia burgdorferi that plays an amplifying role in causing inflammation in Lyme arthritis patients by acting as a molecular beacon that antagonizes the patients’ immune system.
The team identified the protein to be NapA. NapA, which stands for Neutrophil Attracting Protein A, is a remarkable immunomodulatory molecule that is able to recruit immune cells, called neutrophils, toward the inflammatory peptidoglycan.
“We are thrilled about Dr. Jutras’ NapA discovery, publication, and the implications for Lyme disease diagnostics and treatment. His research perfectly aligns with our institute’s vision to impact society by taking a problem-centric approach to tackling environmental and life sciences-related global challenges,” said Matt Hulver, executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.
From a prevention and diagnostic perspective, it’s possible that the combination of peptidoglycan and NapA could be a novel target for diagnostics,” Jutras said. “It could, in theory, be a possible avenue of vaccine development as well. These are big picture possibilities that we are actively pursuing. One thing that we know for sure is that this finding furthers our understanding of how peptidoglycan can drive Lyme arthritis patient symptology.
Source: Virginia Tech