Mater Researchers discover double layer of protection to help gut health

Monday 06 November 2023

Salmonella is a leading cause of foodborne illness, caused when the Salmonella enterica bacteria breaches the intestinal barrier. By understanding the role of a specific protein and how it protects the gut from infection, Mater Researchers are now one step closer to finding new therapies to prevent and treat this serious health issue that causes over 93 millions cases of illness and 155,000 deaths annually.   

The team of Mater Researchers studied a cell surface mucin protein called MUC13, discovering that it provides a double layer of protection to protect the intestines from bacteria.  

Corresponding author and Senior Research Officer Dr Yong Sheng, who conducted the research as part of the Mater Research Immunopathology Research Group, explained that the research team conducted experiments on pre-clinical models to explore how different parts of the salmonella bacteria interact with MUC13 inside the intestines. 

“MUC13 covers the surface of cells in the intestines, and we wanted to understand how MUC13 helps protect us from bacterial infections.” 

“Imagine your intestines are a battleground, with harmful bacteria like Salmonella trying to invade and cause sickness,” Dr Sheng said. 

“We found that MUC13 mops up the bacteria by grabbing a protein on the surface of the Salmonella called SiiE. MUC13 then acts like a decoy, fooling the bacteria and preventing them from invading the cells. This helps keep the bacteria in check and stops them from causing more damage.” 

The research team found that MUC13 does more than just act as a decoy, it also boosts a cell survival signaling pathway in the intestine called NK-κB, keeping the gut barrier strong and preventing the bacteria from breaking through. 

The researchers further discovered that without the MUC13 protein, Salmonella infection results in higher levels of sickness, suggesting that MUC13 is important for defending against these harmful bacteria.

Research Officer Dr Julie Davies of Mater Research’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Group said that the study shows that MUC13 is a crucial player in keeping the intestines safe from harmful bacteria like Salmonella.

“By acting as a decoy, it stops the bacteria from invading and protects your gut barrier,” Dr Davies said.

“This research sheds light on how your body defends against bacterial infections, highlighting the important role of proteins like MUC13.” 

To learn more about the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Group, click here.

To learn more about the Immunopathology Research Group, click here.