Bacteria previously thought harmless linked to worsening lung disease

Image: Pictured is a detection of Neisseria (N. subflava) in lung tissue from patients with bronchiectasis. Shown in red is the N. subflava detection and shown in blue is the airway cell nuclei. Credit: Cell Host & Microbe

A team of international scientists led by NTU Singapore has discovered that Neisseria – a genus of bacteria that lives in the human body – is not as harmless as previously thought, and can cause infections in patients with bronchiectasis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In a landmark study, published today in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe, the team showed conclusive evidence that Neisseria species can cause disease in the lung and are linked to worsening bronchiectasis (a type of lung disease) in patients.

Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition where the airways of the lungs become abnormally enlarged for unknown reasons in up to 50 per cent of Singaporean patients. Despite its prevalence among older people, no obvious cause is found in most cases of bronchiectasis and the condition tends to arise spontaneously and without warning.

To unravel the puzzle of why bronchiectasis worsens at a significantly greater rate among older Asian patients, the international team – spanning researchers and hospitals in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Australia, and the UK – led by NTU’s LKCMedicine Associate Professor Sanjay Chotirmall, Provost’s Chair in Molecular Medicine, matched disease and infection data from 225 patients with bronchiectasis of Asian (Singapore and Malaysia) origin to those from bronchiectasis patients in Europe

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