Although Enterococcus faecalis is usually an innocuous member of the bacterial community in the human gut, it can also cause several infections, including liver disorders. The bacteria produce cytolysins, which are molecules that destroy cells. In a new study, researchers have uncovered how they do so.
“Your chances of dying increase by 5-fold when you get infected by E. faecalis that can make cytolysin compared to those that cannot,” said Wilfred van der Donk (MMG), a professor of chemistry and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Cytolysin is an important molecule and it has been known since the 1930s, our lab determined the cytolysin structure only in 2013.”
Concerningly, E. faecalis is resistant to vancomycin, which is used as a last resort to treat bacterial infections. By understanding how cytolysins affect cells, the researchers hope to prevent its production and reduce the number of lethal infections.