It’s bad enough that invasive infections are painful. New work suggests that pain is only a means to an end for virulent bacteria: It’s how they suppress our immune system.
Previously, the pain from invasive infections like meningitis, necrotizing fasciitis, urinary tract infections, dental caries and intestinal infections was thought to be due to the body’s immune response, causing the infected tissue to become inflamed and swollen.
Not so, says Boston Children’s Hospital neuro-immunologist Isaac Chiu, PhD. Studying invasive skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in live mice, his team’s research demonstrates that the pain is induced by the bacteria themselves, and kicks in well before tissue swelling peaks.
Adding outrage to insult, once the pain-sensing neurons are activated, they suppress the immune system, potentially allowing the bacteria to proliferate, finds the study, published last week in Nature. …