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Biological Chemistry

Beating Back Bacterial Meningitis

Chemical heterogeneity could be used to tune forces in molecular recognition or self-assembly

by Sarah Everts
January 19, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 3

A promising quartet of sugars on the external lipopolysaccharide of Neisseria meningitidis B, which causes as many as 80,000 bacterial meningitis cases worldwide every year, could form the basis of a new vaccine (Chem. Biol. 2015, DOI: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2014.11.016). Training the human immune system to fight bacterial meningitis is an ideal way to sidestep the disease’s consequences, which include hearing loss, brain damage, and death, especially in infants and children. But the development of an all-encompassing vaccine has been stymied by many challenges, including the fact that the disease is caused by several different pathogens. Furthermore, one of the causative agents, N. meningitidis, has several subtypes and current vaccines don’t work on all of them. A team of researchers led by Chakkumkal Anish and Peter H. Seeberger of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids & Interfaces, in Potsdam, Germany, therefore went looking on the lipopolysaccharide exterior of N. meningitidis for oligosaccharides that were common to all the subtypes. They synthesized a four-sugar component of this lipopolysaccharide and showed that it can raise broadly protective antibodies against the pathogen.


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