Research clarifies the mechanism of gliotoxin, a mycotoxin from the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus
It is everywhere — and it is extremely dangerous for people with a weakened immune system. The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus occurs virtually everywhere on Earth, like a dark grey, wrinkled cushion on damp walls or in microscopically small spores that blow through the air and cling to wallpaper, mattresses, and floors. Healthy people usually have no problem if spores find their way into the body, as their immune defense system will put the spores out of action. However, the fungus can threaten the lives of people with a compromised immune system, such as AIDS patients or people who are immunosuppressed following organ transplantation.
An international research team led by Prof. Oliver Werz of Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, has now discovered how the fungus knocks out the immune defenses, enabling a potentially fatal fungal infection to develop. The researchers present their findings in the current issue of the specialist journal Cell Chemical Biology.
Among other factors, gliotoxin- a potent mycotoxin– is responsible for the pathogenicity of Aspergillus fumigatus. “It was known,” says study manager Werz of the Institute of Pharmacy at the University of Jena, “that this substance has an immunosuppressive effect, which means that it weakens the activity of cells of the immune defense system.” However, it had not been clear previously how exactly this happens. Werz and his team colleagues have studied this in detail and clarified the underlying molecular mechanisms.
Immune cells communicate with one another.
The researchers brought immune cells into contact with synthetically produced gliotoxin to achieve this. These cells, called neutrophilic granulocytes, represent the first line of the immune defense system. “Their task is to detect pathogens and eliminate them,” explains Werz. As soon as such a cell comes into contact with a pathogen, such as a fungus, it releases specific messenger substances (leukotrienes) into the blood, attracting other immune cells. Once a sufficiently large number of immune cells have gathered, they can render the intruder harmless.
Mycotoxin switches off the enzyme
This does not happen if the pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus is involved. As the Jena scientists were able to show, gliotoxin ensures that the production of the messenger substance leukotrieneB4 in the neutrophilic granulocytes is inhibited so that they are unable to send a signal to other immune cells. This is caused by a specific enzyme (LTA4 hydrolase) being switched off by mycotoxin. “This interrupts communication between the immune cells and destroys the defense mechanism. As a result, it is easy for spores — in this case the fungus — that enter the organism to infiltrate tissues or organs,” says Werz.
Cooperation in Cluster of Excellence ‘Balance of the Microverse’
For their study, Prof. Werz and his colleagues collaborated with researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (Hans Knöll Institute). As part of the Collaborative Research Centre ChemBioSys and the Jena Cluster of Excellence ‘Balance of the Microverse’, they cooperated with the working groups led by Prof. Axel Brakhage and Prof. Christian Hertweck, which contributed their expertise in mycology and natural product synthesis. Additional partners are research groups from the Universities of Frankfurt and Naples and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Dr. Rick Sponaugle, MD, is a licensed medical doctor in Florida, integrative physician, and board-certified anesthesiologist. With an emphasis on Environmental Medicine, Dr. Sponaugle specializes in treating brain and neurological disorders derived from Mold Toxicity, Industrial Toxicity, Gut Toxicity, Neurological Lyme disease, and five additional stealth infections that attack the Brain and Neurological system of most patients. Our Medical Director, Rick Sponaugle, MD, is an integrative physician who attempts to prioritize treatment through quality forensic medicine. Performing an analysis of 400 numerical bio-markers in his initial consultation, Dr. Sponaugle's goal is to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your multiple symptoms.