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Caught in a web: Study reveals that immune cells cooperate to trap and kill bacteria

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Like a spider trapping its prey, our immune system cells cooperate to capture and "eat" bacteria.
Scanning electromicrograph of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Credit: NIAID



The newly identified antibacterial mechanism, reported Sept. 10 in Science Advances, could inspire novel strategies for combating Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and other extracellular bacterial pathogens.

It was known that neutrophils—first responder immune cells that migrate to sites of infection—can self-destruct and release their protein and DNA contents to generate neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). Now, Vanderbilt researchers led by postdoctoral fellow Andrew Monteith, Ph.D., have discovered that NETs boost the bacterial killing power of another type of immune cell: macrophages.

"Neutrophils produce the spider webs that immobilize the bacteria, and macrophages are the spiders that engulf and kill the bacteria," said Eric Skaar, Ph.D., MPH, Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation.

Staph bacteria—particularly antibiotic-resistant forms—are a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections, infectious heart disease and pus-forming skin and soft tissue infections.

Neutrophils and macrophages are both phagocytic cells known for ingesting bacteria and producing antimicrobial peptides, reactive oxygen species and other enzymes to fight infection. NET generation (NETosis), thought to be a form of programmed cell…
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