Bacteria are able to attach themselves to tissue fibers with the aid of a ‘nano-adhesive’. Just how they achieve this was investigated a few years ago by Viola Vogel, Professor of Applied Mechanobiology, using computer simulations at CSCS. The researchers simulated how the bacterial nano-adhesive – a peptide thread with several binding sites strung together like pearls – adheres to what are called fibronectin fibers. These form part of the fibrous network in which cells are embedded. Where there is a lesion, the fibronectin fibers become severed.

Bacterium senses tensional state of tissue fibers

Intact tissue fibers are held under tension by the pulling force from cells in the fibrous network. When fibronectin fibers are stretched by forces, simulations of this process showed that the distances between the individual binding sites on fibronectin, as bridged by the bacterial peptide, grow too large and hence the bacterial nano-adhesive becomes largely detached.

At the time, the researchers had not expected such results. These suggested that the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, whose adhesion was used in the simulation, might in the course of its evolution have developed a nano-sensor to detect the tensional state of fibronectin fibers. In order to ‘successfully’ infect a lesion, the dreaded bacterium probably binds itself to severed and therefore structurally relaxed fibers.

However, little is known about the tensional state of tissue fibers and their effect on physiological processes in degenerative changes in tissue, for example. There is also a lack of methods suitable for measuring the minuscule forces that cells exert on tissue fibers.

Viola Vogel and her research group are therefore working on nano-sensors that can do the job: inspired by the simulations, they developed a bacterial peptide able to recognize the tensional states of fibronectin in tissue. Such a peptide could be used both in therapy and diagnostics.

Image Credit:  Samuel Hertig

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