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Eczema-associated bacteria may be kept in check by a different microbe

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria populate cracked skin

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Having a diverse mix of bacteria on your skin may help fight off eczema. The finding suggests that microbiome transplants could be a way to treat the skin condition.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, affects up to 20 per cent of children and around 3 per cent of adults. Previous research has found that people with eczema have a higher abundance of Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium found on the skin.

Their immune systems also have lower concentrations of certain cells that help build up the skin’s barriers, which allows S. aureus to spread. To figure out why this happens, Richard Gallo at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues studied human skin cells from people with and without eczema, and colonised S. aureus bacteria on the skin of mice.

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In the human cells, they found that S. aureus used a process called quorum sensing, in which the bacterial cells communicate to release damaging toxins and enzymes that help them break the skin’s barrier for the colony to take a stronger hold. At the same time, they found that other bacteria in the Staphylococcus family fought off these toxins by secreting proteins that blocked quorum sensing – essentially stopping messages from passing between the colony of S. aureus.

When Gallo and his team isolated a part of these blocker bacteria and put it on the mice whose skin had been inflamed by S. aureus, it protected the skin from further flare-ups.

“This shows how bacterial diversity on the skin actually can play a role on inhibiting the skin inflammation caused by Staphylococcus aureus,” says Roxana Daneshjou at Stanford University. “Understanding how the interaction between S. aureus and the skin barrier worsens atopic dermatitis may provide the rationale for future therapeutic intervention.”

Gallo says this adds further justification for microbiome transplants currently in development, in which an ointment containing friendly bacteria is applied to the skin.

Journal reference: Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aat8329

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