Anthrax has a dangerous reputation. It is known to have horrific effects on the human body, including severe lung infections and skin lesions, although painless. The anthrax bacterium is also known as the weapon of terror and has also been utilized as a terror weapon. However, recent discoveries suggest that irrespective of the disastrous side effects of the dreaded microbe, it also has certain benefits, including silencing multiple types of pains in animals. This article will explore the impact of dangerous microbes and bacteria and how these microbes silence numerous pains.
Dangerous Microbes that silence multiple pains
A group of medical researchers from Harvard University leading this research has made observations regarding this topic in Nature Neuroscience published on December 20. The study reveals that the microbe Anthrax is extremely dangerous to health and has shown signs of numbing the pain-sensing neurons. Also, when it is given in appropriate doses, the bacterium can often offer relief to animals under a lot of stress by entering the peripheral nervous system and the neurons of the center. Furthermore, the researchers have also determined a way to induce anthrax in the body by combining parts of anthrax to different types of molecular cargo. They then tested the end product on pain-sensing neurons. This system can be explored and used to design pain-relieving treatments that affect pain receptors, although without the effects of the currently popular drugs such as opioids.
Isaac Chiu, a senior study investigator, assistant professor of immunology in the Blavatnik Institute at the Harvard Medical School, says that the molecular way of inducing a bacterial toxin to provide substances into neurons and modulating the functions of these dangerous microbes on pain-sensing neurons represents a new way to understand and target pain-relieving neurons in animals.
The need to expand the field of pain management and its medicines is essential. Currently, opioids are the most widely used medication for relieving pain, and they are the most effective. Still, opioids have numerous side effects that are highly harmful to the body. The most damaging and prominent side effect of opioids on the body is that it resets and rewires the entire brain, making it addictive. It also suppresses breathing which also makes it dangerous. Therefore, it is essential to find alternatives to opioids that are less addictive and harmful to the body, according to Nicole Young, first author, HMS research fellow in immunology in the Chiu Lab. However, the research also warns that before ultimately making these microbes, specifically anthrax, a mainstream pain-killing alternative, testing them more on various subjects is essential.
Primed to Connect
The Chiu lab has always been keen on the relationship between microbes and the body’s nervous system. The same lab conducted past research on the other disease-causing bacteria and their effects on the body’s nervous system. However, none of the studies focuses on the impact of dangerous microbes on the body and whether it helps relieve pain. But currently, they are researching this topic to determine the same.
To begin the research, they found out the differences between the pain-sensing neurons and the normal neurons. First, they used gene expression and found out that the pain fibres have receptors for anthrax toxins, whereas the other neurons do not have receptors for toxins. The pain fibres were structured so that it was bound to react to the anthrax toxin. Their article on this research has explored the reason for this behaviour of the neurons towards these dangerous microbes.
The research article states that the pain silencing or relieving happens when the dorsal root ganglia, which are nerves that deliver pain signals to the spinal cord, join with two proteins produced by the Anthrax toxins themselves. Experiments suggest that proteins that connect to the nerve receptors are Protective Antigen (PA), Lethal Factor (LF) and Edema Factor (EF). First, the Protective Antigen binds with the nerve receptors and forms a pore that makes way for the other two proteins, Lethal Factor (LF) and Edema Factor (EF), to connect with the body’s nerve receptors. The Protective Antigen and the Edema Factor are, collectively known as edema toxins, change the nerve cell’s signals and silences the pain in the nerve receptors.
Using the quirks of microbial evolution for new therapies
In the research, the researchers determined that inducing the anthrax toxins to the lower spines of mice produced a pain-relieving effect; this prevented the mice from sensing the high-temperature and mechanical stimulus. Consequently, the dangerous microbe did not affect other vitals of the mice, i.e., the heart rate, body temperature, and motor coordination were all stable. Furthermore, they did not affect the mice after the induction of anthrax. Therefore, this concludes that anthrax only affects the pain-sensing neurons and numbs the pain there and does not affect any other part of the body. Furthermore, injecting Anthrax toxins also soothed the symptoms of two types of pain, i.e., the pain caused by the nerve cell damage and inflammation typically found in the aftermath of accidents and severe diseases.
Furthermore, it was clear that the pain of the nerves diminished due to the Anthrax toxins and not because of any other reason due to no change in the physiological condition of the mice. Finally, the researchers organised a carrier transport from Anthrax toxins with other pain-blocking substances. One of these other substances was Botulinum Toxin which shares the same properties of numbing pain as Anthrax Toxins. This experiment had the same effect on the mice that Anthrax Toxin produced. These successes resulted in the hope that a new pain-relieving system could be created with these dangerous microbes. However, scientists still caution that the effects of these hazardous microbes are not known entirely, and Anthrax toxin disrupts the blood-brain barrier during infections.
Although the dangerous microbes have positively affected numbing pain, the question still arises as to why a dangerous microbe like anthrax would silence pain? To this question, Chui answers that the reason for this is that the microbes may interact with the host is due to their own spread and survival, although he says that it is a highly speculative reason. He further adds that this might also be why the skin lesions that Anthrax forms are painless.
The findings of the experiments have encouraged researchers to conclude that there may be a notable expansion of pain-killing drugs. Chiu adds that combining bacteria and neurons might generally expand the diversity and range of the substances they find solutions in general.