Public Release: 

New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria

Research into the bacterial interactions in our nasal microbiome suggest novel approaches for preventing Staphylococcus aureus infections without antibiotic use

Forsyth Institute

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., August 17, 2016 -Staphylococcus aureus is a common colonizer of the human body. Although, one quarter of the U.S. population live with the bacteria and never get sick, having S. aureus present in the nostrils is a risk for infections that range in severity from mild skin to life- threatening MRSA infections. Research from the Forsyth Institute is providing insight into how harmless Corynebacterium species, bacterial members of the nasal and skin microbiome, help protect humans from disease.

A recent study by senior-author Katherine P. Lemon MD, PhD and first-author Matthew M. Ramsey PhD, along with Dr. Marcelo Freire at the Forsyth Institute, and with Rebecca Gabrilska and Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh from Texas Tech University, shows that when the two bacteria interact, Corynebacterium inhibits the virulence of S. aureus. Further understanding of these interactions is likely to help researchers to develop new treatments for preventing S. aureus infections. In addition, further research on the interactions between benign members of the human microbiome and bacteria, like S. aureus, that exhibit similar dual characteristics of living in harmony with and causing infections of humans, so-called pathobionts, could lead to the development of novel treatments for other diseases.

"Our research helps set the stage for the development of small molecules and, potentially, probiotic therapies for promoting health by actively managing nasal microbiome composition," says Lemon. "This research identifies a role for Corynebacterium species in suppressing S. aureus virulence, and is an exciting early stage in our exploration of the molecular mechanisms that sculpt the composition of the nasal microbiome and influence colonization by pathobionts. We look forward to an increase in research on commensal-pathobiont interactions within the human microbiome and an ever-increasing understanding of the significance of our beneficial bacteria partners."

In recent years, the emergence of an antibiotic resistant form of S. aureus infection (methicillin-resistance S. aureus or MRSA) has been a vexing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA caused over 80,000 cases of invasive disease and over 10,000 deaths annually from 2005 through 2011. As more and more species of bacteria become antibiotic resistant, a deeper understanding of the interactions between potentially helpful and harmful bacteria in our microbiomes offers new approaches for treating diseases by harnessing the functions of already-present "beneficial" bacteria. Because pathobiont colonization is a prerequisite for infection and transmission, a possible approach to prevent infections by bacteria such as S. aureus is to limit or decrease their abundance or to shift them towards harmless behavior using either compounds derived from benign/beneficial members of the microbiome or by using these beneficial bacteria themselves as probiotics.

The full paper, titled "Staphylococcus aureus shifts towards commensalism in response to Corynebacterium species" is available for download from the Frontiers in Microbiology website.

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For more information on interactions between harmless members of the microbiome and the potentially infectious bacterial species, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae, see the review paper "Commensal-Pathogen Interactions along the Human Nasal Passages," also recently published by Dr. Lemon and members of her laboratory (Drs. Silvio Brugger and Lindsey Bomar). This short article reviews our current understanding of S. aureus and/or S. pneumoniae interactions with Corynebacterium and Propionibacterium species, common members of the nasal and skin microbiomes. The full paper can be found on the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Pathogens website as part of the Pearls collection.

About The Forsyth Institute

Founded in 1910, the Forsyth Institute is the only independent research organization in the United States dedicated to understanding the important connections between oral health and overall wellness. Forsyth scientists are shaping the direction of personalized medicine through pioneering biomedical research and its direct application to new diagnostics, devices and therapies. Forsyth combines its expertise in oral and associated systemic diseases with a relentless drive to ask - and answer - critical questions about how to best alleviate daily health challenges for billions. Forsyth is a not-for-profit organization that is also committed to treating underserved populations in local communities and on a national and global scale. To learn more about Forsyth, visit http://www.forsyth.org.

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