If bacteria had character traits, chlamydia would be described as sneaky: these nasty fellows often do nothing at first. They duck away. Up to 80 percent of women and half of men have an infection without symptoms. This makes it easier for the pathogen to spread and sometimes leads to severe or chronic disease processes only years later, explains microbiology professor Thomas Rudel from the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg.
Chlamydia could cause cancer
But sexually transmitted chlamydia can cause inflammation in the urethra, vagina or anal area. “As a result, women can become sterile, have severe problems later, and may even need surgery. We also suspect that chlamydia can cause cancer in the long term,” says the doctor.
Chlamydia need human host cells to multiply
But so far, the bacteria have only been little investigated, adds Rudel. That is why the interdisciplinary team wanted to find out how the bacteria can reproduce. Because actually chlamydia have no cell wall at all. But if they penetrate a human host cell in order to reproduce, they absolutely need a cell wall. That is why they practically undergo a transformation, says the researcher.
Outside the host cell, bacteria would die when dividing
Bacteria that live in a cell and depend on the multiplication of this cell always go through two forms. They cannot multiply outside the cell. If they parted there, there would be no nutrients and they would die. Therefore, the bacteria must know: Am I outside the cell or in the cell?
Chlamydia form their own cell walls with glutamine
In the cell, the bacteria wake up from a kind of sleep state. And then they are very hungry: for the amino acid glutamine. The researchers found this out by combining chlamydia in a cell culture with various suspicious substances and looking at what happened. “In this relatively simple experiment, we looked: can we detect cell wall components? That was the case when we added glutamine. This is a component of the cell wall and when we added it, we were able to determine that the bacteria begin to form cell walls . And that was spectacular, “says Rudel.
Sex bacteria are vulnerable: Glutamine is the Achilles’ heel of chlamydia
The professor of cellular microbiology says that glutamine is the Achilles’ heel of chlamydia. Because the glutamine uptake into the cell can be controlled – for example by medication. There is even a cancer drug out there that could work. And then we ingest glutamine with our food. So do you just have to eat differently? “In principle, that would be one possibility: you could change the diet accordingly so that there is less glutamine and this makes it more difficult for the bacteria to reproduce,” says Thomas Rudel.
Problem: People need glutamine too
But the researcher doubts that we can do without glutamine. It is too important for our body, for example for the muscles. In addition, glutamine is found in pretty much all proteins. And a diet without proteins is hardly conceivable. Nevertheless, Rudel adds that such considerations do exist in the treatment of cancer. The research is not very advanced and possible side effects are not yet in sight.