Newswise — Human cells have a defense mechanism that protects them from microbial attacks, a Canadian-led team of international researchers has discovered.

When microbes enter our body, they liberate toxins that can damage cells by poking holes in the external cell layer. To defend themselves from the intrusion, cells scramble their membrane fat (lipid) into a more liquid form that allows them to fix the holes, the research team found.

Those repairs prevent the cells from breaking up and dying.

Led by André Veillette, an Université de Montréal medical professor and researcher at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), the discovery was recently published in Cell Reports.

‘’Our body is very clever”, said Veillette.  “Some microbes cause diseases by punching holes in the external layer of cells and killing these cells.  But our body has the ability to repair these holes.  We have identified a molecule, known as TMEM16F, that can repair the holes and prevent the cells from dying.”

The researchers hope that by stimulating the scrambling of cell fat with new drugs, they may help to protect humans from some microbes such as listeria, which causes severe diarrhea, and streptococcus, which can trigger destruction of blood cells.

About the study

This research was conducted at the IRCM Molecular Oncology Research Unit by André Veillette, Ning Wu, Vitalij Cernysiov, Dominique Davidson, Yan Lu and Jin Qian, in collaboration with Hua Song, Jianlong Tang and Shanshan Luo from Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Ivayla E. Gyurova and Stephen N. Waggoner at the University of Cincinnati; Vincent Quoc-Huy Trinh and Romain Cayrol at Université de Montréal; Ayumu Sugiura and Heidi M. McBride at McGill University; and Jean-François Daudelin and Nathalie Labrecque at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Center and Université de Montreal.  

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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Cell Reports, January 28, 2020