Microbiology

Bacterial Reprogramming

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Science  18 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6117, pp. 253
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6117.253-b
CREDIT: RAMBUKKANA LAB

Cell reprogramming is a phenomenon that occurs in vitro and in vivo. The former involves the introduction of proteins such as the four "Yamanaka factors" or more recent studies with small molecules, whereas in vivo reprogramming can be seen, for example, during gametogenesis. Masaki et al. report on another reprogramming event in nature, one that involves host/pathogen interaction. The leprosy-causing bacterium Mycobacterium leprae targets differentiated adult Schwann cells, which display considerable plasticity for regeneration after injury. Upon infection, M. leprae induced reprogramming of adult peripheral nerve mouse Schwann cells, converting the host cells to a stemlike fate with the ability to produce chemoattractants and trophic factors that promote macrophage recruitment, bacterial transfer, and survival of infected macrophages. This reprogramming occurred through direct differentiation of infected Schwann cells to mesenchymal cells and skeletal and smooth muscle cells, as well as through the formation of granuloma-like structures that released macrophages carrying bacteria. Perhaps by understanding the mechanism of bacterial spread via the exploitation of adult Schwann cell plasticity and the shutting down of Schwann cell gene expression, new therapies to prevent M. leprae infection can be developed.

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