Fungal meningitis spreads in brain by blocking and bursting blood vessels

  • New research from the University of Sheffield gives scientists a better understanding of how meningitis spreads, paving the way for new treatments
  • Groundbreaking study shows Cryptococcus neoformans helps the life threatening infection spread from the blood by blocking and bursting blood vessels
  • An estimated 2.5 million cases of meningitis occur globally each year
  • The findings will also help researchers better understand other blood vessel related diseases such as cardiovascular and neurological diseases

New research from the University of Sheffield has revealed how fungus blocks and bursts blood vessels in the brain, helping scientists better understand how meningitis starts.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, shows that Cryptococcus neoformans microbes become lodged in blood vessels preventing blood flow and increasing blood pressure. These microbes grow in the small blood vessels causing them to stretch and burst, releasing the infectious microbes into the brain and causing meningitis.

Meningitis is most commonly caused by an infection of the brain and spinal cord and can be life threatening if not recognised and treated very quickly. It is most common in babies, adolescents and those with compromised immune systems and affects an estimated 2.5 million people each year.

Dr Simon Johnston, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “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 focused 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.

“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.”

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.