Many have wondered how pathogens that cause bacterial meningitis slip through the tight defences of the blood–brain barrier.
Dlawer Ala'Aldeen at the University of Nottingham, UK, Elaine Tuomanen at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and their collaborators used murine and human cells and live mice to show that Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae all use the same means of entry. These bacteria recognize and attach to a specific target on laminin receptors on the inner surface of the brain's many blood vessels.
The team isolated the proteins used by the pathogens to bind to this receptor. These could be used in the design of a broadly protective meningitis vaccine.