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Bacteria and T2DM

Prolonged exposure to bacteria may cause type 2 diabetes

Credit: National Institues of Health/Wikipedia
Findings suggest anti-bacterial therapy or vaccines may help to prevent or treat type 2 diabetes

A study by University of Iowa microbiologists suggests that bacteria may cause of one type 2 diabetes. The research team led by Dr Patrick Schlievert, professor and DEO of microbiology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, found that prolonged exposure to a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria causes rabbits to develop the hallmark symptoms of type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation.

Schlievert's research has previously shown that superantigens - toxins produced by all strains of staph bacteria - disrupt the immune system and are responsible for the deadly effects of various staph infections, such as toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and endocarditis.

The UI findings suggest that therapies aimed at eliminating staph bacteria or neutralizing the superantigens might have potential for preventing or treating Type 2 diabetes. Obesity is a known risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, but obesity also alters a person's microbiome - the ecosystem of bacteria that colonise our bodies and affect our health.

Patrick Schlievert

"We basically reproduced type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen," said Schlievert. "What we are finding is that as people gain weight, they are increasingly likely to be colonised by staph bacteria - to have large numbers of these bacteria living on the surface of their skin. People who are colonised by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing."

The team's latest study, ‘Chronic Superantigen Exposure Induces Systemic Inflammation, Elevated Bloodstream Endotoxin, and Abnormal Glucose Tolerance in Rabbits: Possible Role in Diabetes’, published in the journal mBio, shows that superantigens interact with fat cells and the immune system to cause chronic systemic inflammation, and this inflammation leads to insulin resistance and other symptoms characteristic of Type 2 diabetes.

In examining the levels of staph colonization on the skin of four patients with diabetes, Schlievert's team estimate that exposure to the bacterial superantigens for people who are heavily colonized by staph is proportional to the doses of superantigen that caused the rabbits to develop diabetes symptoms in the team's experiments.

"I think we have a way to intercede here and alter the course of diabetes," he added. "We are working on a vaccine against the superantigens and we believe that this type of vaccine could prevent the development of type 2 diabetes."

The team also is investigating the use of a topical gel containing glycerol monolaurate, which kills staph bacteria on contact, as an approach to eliminate staph bacteria from human skin. They plan to test whether this approach will improve blood sugar levels in patients with pre-diabetes.

In addition to Schlievert, the UI research team included Bao Vu, Christopher Stach, Katarina Kulhankova, Wilmara Salgado-Pabón, and Aloysius Klingelhutz. The study was funded in part by grants from the Carver Trust Collaborative.

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