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A cell protein called stathmin helps Listeria bacterial infection disseminate

04 June 2019

Comet Watching

Infection with Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) can be fatal, so scientists are looking for weaknesses in how it spreads through human cells. The bacterium often hijacks its host’s cytoskeleton – the tiny network of pipe-like actin and tubulin proteins that prop up our cell membranes. Pictured here in 3D under a super-resolution microscope, Lm coaxes a new cytoskeleton structure to grow – a wispy ‘comet’, with actin highlighted in green, tubulin in red and Lm, in cyan, sitting at the top of the comet’s tail. Lm uses the comet as a sort of catapult (although 10 million times smaller) – flinging itself towards other cells to the spread an infection. But scientists may have found a way to dismantle these microscopic siege weapons. Depriving them of a protein called stathmin prevents tubulin from being 'recruited' to build the comet, and may be the key to new treatments designed to block Listeria’s spread.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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