NKU Team Discovered for the First Time the Mechanism by Which Pathogenic Bacteria Penetrate the Human Blood-Brain Barrier


Recently, the team led by Professor Lei Wang of Nankai University discovered that three major meningitis-causing bacteria exploit the same mechanism to penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and illustrated the molecular mechanism in detail. Bacterial meningitis has a high fatality rate and serious sequela, and lacks specific treatment methods. The research team revealed for the first time the mechanism by which bacteria penetrate the BBB, and this is of great significance for meningitis prevention and treatment. The research results were published online in the world-renowned academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Bacterial meningitis is an inflammatory response caused by pathogenic bacterial infection, including meninges, arachnoid and pia mater, and has a high morbidity and mortality. Moreover, after the treatments the patients may suffer neurological sequelae such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy. As bacterial meningitis has become a global public health issue, studying the pathogenic mechanism of meningitis-causing bacteria and finding effective treatment and prevention methods for pathogenic bacterial infection have always been received great attention in the field of microbiology. The BBB protects the central nervous system and prevents harmful substances or bacteria in the blood from entering the brain. Meningitis-causing bacteria can penetrate the BBB to invade the brain and cause inflammation, but the molecular mechanism of bacterial penetration remains unclear.

In response to this key problem, Nankai University’s research team discovered after years of research that the three major meningitis-causing bacteria – Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, and neonatal meningitis Escherichia coli – penetrate the BBB by hitchhiking on the transcytosis of transferrin receptor (TfR). The findings suggest that these bacteria exploit the same mechanism to penetrate the BBB. Therefore, the discovery of this mechanism provides a theoretical basis and potential targets for the development of broad-spectrum drugs for the prevention and treatment of bacterial meningitis. At the same time, it offers new ideas for delivering drugs across the BBB.

This is the fourth time that Professor Lei Wang’s team publishes important research findings in PNAS after publishing the NKU’s first PNAS paper in 2007. Professor Lei Wang is the corresponding author of the paper, and Professor Zhihui Cheng and doctoral students Yangyang Zheng and Wen Yang are the co-first authors of the paper.



(Edited and translated by Nankai News Team.)