What is it about?

Meningitis is caused by an infection of the brain and spinal cord that can be life threatening if not recognised and treated very quickly. Meningitis infection can happen to anyone but is most common in babies, adolescents and those with compromised immune systems. The brain has very complex and effective defences against microbes but we have identified a simple and effective method that microbes may use to escape the blood and enter the brain. Previous research has focussed on how microbes can break down the defences of the brain or use immune cells as a route into the brain. We can demonstrate how for some microbes damaging blood vessels is a very effective method of invasion. Microbes stuck in blood vessels prevented blood flow and increased blood pressure. However, microbes could grow in small blood vessels, stretching and sometimes bursting them, releasing microbes into the brain.

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Why is it important?

Our immune system is very effective at recognising and destroying microbes, including in the blood. However, some microbes can escape the immune cells and it is these microbes that would be most effective at using blood vessels bursting as a way into the brain. We started this research because we knew there was unexplained blood vessel damage in some meningitis patients. We are now working to find new treatments for these patients. The infections causing meningitis can be treated with antimicrobials but often patients are often very ill and can a lot of damage can be caused before treatment is effective. This will be made worse by the ongoing global increase in antimicrobial resistant infections. We are using the knowledge we have gained from studying how meningitis can start in our experiments to understand how meningitis patients might be looked after to reduce the damage caused to the brain while treatment takes place.

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This page is a summary of: Blood vessel occlusion by Cryptococcus neoformans is a mechanism for haemorrhagic dissemination of infection, PLoS Pathogens, April 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010389.
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