Genes reveal clue to meningitis B

to cause meningitis have been mapped.

By | November 1, 2000

The virulence genes responsible for turning harmless meningitis B bacteria into potential killers have been mapped by researchers at Oxford University. This provides hope for the development of a vaccine against a disease that kills 10% of those who contract it.

One in 10 people have the bacteria that cause meningitis B — Neisseria meningitis — living harmlessly in their nose and throat. In some cases, however, the bacterium is triggered to invade the bloodstream, causing meningitis. In a study published in November Nature Medicine, Dr Christoph Tang and colleagues used signature tagged mutagenesis to identify the virulence genes that allow the bacterium to spread throughout the bloodstream. Dr Tang says "Without this septicaemia stage the bacterium does not cause any harm in people, and our work pinpoints 75 genes in the meningococcus that are essential to this stage." Vaccines could be developed that alert the immune system to the chemicals produced by these genes, thereby prompting an immune response against the meningitis B bacterium.

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