Placenta protectors no match for toxic Strep B pigment | Science News

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Placenta protectors no match for toxic Strep B pigment

Bacterial weapon pokes holes in immune cells, study in monkeys shows

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2:00pm, October 14, 2016
neutrophils

MICROBIAL MACHETE  A toxic pigment made by Strep B bacteria destroys infection-fighting cells called neutrophils (healthy neutrophil, left; one exposed to a pigmented strain of Strep B, middle; one exposed to a hyperpigmented strain, right).

A type of bacteria that can cause stillbirth and fatal illness in newborns attacks with an unlikely weapon: an orange pigment made of fat.

This pigment mutilates infection-fighting immune system cells, enabling the bacteria — Group B Streptococcus — to quickly cross the placenta and invade the amniotic sac, a new study in monkeys shows. In one case, it took as little as 15 minutes for the bacteria to cross the protective membrane, researchers report October 14 in Science Immunology.

“That’s shocking,” says study coauthor Kristina Adams Waldorf, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “The poor placenta has no time to control the invasion.”

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