UTIs: bacterial behaviour offers clue to future treatments

Wednesday, 29 June, 2022

UTIs: bacterial behaviour offers clue to future treatments

More than half of all Australian women will suffer from a UTI in their lifetime, and nearly one in three women will have an infection requiring treatment with antibiotics before the age of 24.

Around 80% of UTIs are caused by uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), which is increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

With an aim to discover new treatment options, researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) are using microscopy to pinpoint how these bacteria spread and multiply.

Dr Bill Söderström and Associate Professor Iain Duggin, of the Australian Institute for Microbiology and Infection at UTS, said their latest research examined the shapeshifting behaviour of UPEC. During a UTI infection cycle, the bacteria form spaghetti-like filaments hundreds of times their normal lengths before reverting to their original form.

The study used a human bladder cell infection model to generate the filaments and look at their reversal back to rod shape. “While we don’t fully understand why they do this extreme lifestyle makeover, we know they must revert to their original size before they can reinfect new bladder cells,” Söderström said.

“We used advanced microscopy to follow two key cell division proteins and their localisation dynamics during reversal. We found that the normal rules for regulation of cell division in bacteria does not fully apply in filaments,” Söderström said.

“By giving the first clues into how the reversal of filamentation is regulated during infection, we may be laying the foundation for identifying new ways to combat UTIs.”

Associate Professor Duggin said the long filaments formed by the bacteria appeared to break open the infected human cells, through a previously unknown mechanism called infection-related filamentation (IRF).

“Our goal is to identify why and how the bacteria do this remarkable feat in the hope of enabling alternative treatments or preventions,” said Duggin. The study has been published in Nature Communications.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/jomkwan7

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