Deadly mold caused about 200,000 deaths

Fighting mold infections

A scientific team from different countries is finding a new therapeutic approach in the fight against the deadly mold Aspergillus fumigatus. The fungus causes around 200,000 deaths annually and causes millions of lung diseases and allergies. Therefore, treatment options are urgently needed to face the mold, which is also known as “killer”.

Quick overview:
The researchers were able to find out:

  • that the dye in the fungus plays an important role in infection,
  • how our body's immune system reacts to the pigment melanin in the fungus,
  • how a fungal infection can be detected earlier
  • how a separate receptor for fungal melanin developed in the course of evolution.

In collaboration with numerous institutions, scientists led by Professor Gordon Brown from the University of Aberdeen investigated the health-threatening mold Aspergillus fumigatus and identified a mechanism that could be used to develop novel therapies against fungal infections. The results of the research work were recently published in the journal "Nature".

The killer mushroom Aspergillus fumigatus

Infection with the Aspergillus fumigatus mold is one of the most feared complications after surgery, such as a transplant. Over 50 percent of patients who contract this fungus after surgery do not survive the infection. In addition, the fungus causes millions of lung diseases and allergies, such as bronchial asthma.

Why is the mushroom so dangerous?

Among other things, the fungus is so dangerous because it is difficult to recognize and treat. If Aspergillus fumigatus gets into the bloodstream, it can affect internal organs and cause blood poisoning. This can have fatal consequences, especially for people with a weak immune system. Medical research has long been trying to understand the exact processes involved in a fungal infection in order to develop more efficient therapies that involve the body's defenses.

How does the immune system react to the intruder?

Contrary to previous assumptions that the immune system primarily recognizes sugar in the cell wall of fungi, the researchers found that an unexpected component of the fungus triggers an immune system response. It is the pigment melanin contained in the mushroom. This dye combines with a specially responsible receptor called MelLec. A certain variant of the receptor is even associated with an increased susceptibility to infections.

A big step forward

"A better understanding of how our immune system responds to the intruder is critical to better recognizing it in infected people and developing new therapies," said Professor Gordon Brown in a press release on the study results. The research team has shown that the immune system reacts to parts of the fungus that were previously not known to be recognized at all. This discovery is a big step forward, but it also underlines how complex the fight against these mushrooms is.

German scientists were also involved

Prof. Dr. Axel Brakhage, chair holder at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and director of the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology, is a renowned expert in fungal infections. In the course of the study, he discovered the pigment melanin and its importance for the disease-causing effects of the fungus. "I am fascinated that evolution has developed its own receptor for mushroom melanin," reports Brakhage.

Complex mechanisms

"This indicates that the dye plays an important role for humans in an infection," said the expert. According to the expert, such complex processes as the colonization of humans by fungi and the immune response against them can no longer be investigated by a single group or even a scientist alone.

Successful combat only possible across national borders

The study team particularly emphasized the good cooperation of the Europe-wide network of experienced researchers, who examined the various aspects of fungal infections at the molecular level and brought together the knowledge gained. "The successful fight against infections is only possible across national borders," sums up the mushroom expert. (sb, vb)

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