Superbugs secrete toxins that make you sick

When staphylococcus bacteria invades the body, it produces toxins called superantigens. It's more complex than scientists previously thought.

Superbugs aren't the only offender. Any bacteria that secretes superantigens could be to blame for your illness. The term, superantigen, was coined in 1990 to describe exotoxins secreted by Staphylococcus bacteria.

While superantigens have a reputation for activating T-cells and causing toxic symptoms like toxic shock syndrome and food poisoning, their biological function has been largely overlooked.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg discovered that superantigens are more complex than previously thought. As it turns out, the superantigens get the immune system to enlist a large army of killer T cells to fight off the invading organisms.

"Superantigens have a real talent for disrupting the body's immune system," said Karin Lindkvist from the University of Gothenburg's Department of Cell- and Molecular Biology, in a statement.

So basically, when a virus invades the body, it can make the immune system fight back with about 0.0001 percent of T cells. Normally that's enough to kill the virus, according to the researchers.

But when superantigens are secreted, the number of T cell activation shoots up to 20 percent. When this happens, you'll know. You'll have a fever and feel nauseous.

The consequences of this might be longer term too. The scientists suspect superantigens may be the root cause of autoimmune disorders and inflammatory skin conditions. In any case, the research shows how bacterial toxins can put our immune system into overdrive.

"This is an important discovery... for the future development of a vaccine against superantigens," Lindkvist said in a statement. The research was published earlier this month in the journal Nature.

Photo: University of Gothenburg

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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