A common bacterium found in improperly cooked chicken can cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome - the leading cause of acute neuromuscular paralysis in humans, researchers have found for the first time.
The research not only demonstrates how this food-borne bacterium known as Campylobacter jejuni triggers Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), but offers new information for a cure. If chicken is not cooked to the proper minimum internal temperature, bacteria can still exist.
"What our work has told us is that it takes a certain genetic makeup combined with a certain Campylobacter strain to cause this disease," said Linda Mansfield from Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine in the US. "The concerning thing is that many of these strains are resistant to antibiotics and our work shows that treatment with some antibiotics could actually make the disease worse," said Mansfield.
GBS is the world's leading cause of acute neuromuscular paralysis in humans and despite much speculation, the exact mechanisms of how this autoimmune disease develops have been widely unknown, researchers said. "We have successfully produced three preclinical models of GBS that represent two different forms of the syndrome seen in humans," Mansfield said.
"Our models now provide a unique opportunity to understand how your personal genetic type may make you more susceptible to certain forms of GBS," she said. Another area of concern more recently among scientists is related to an increase of the disease due to the Zika virus.
Mansfield said there are many other bacteria and viruses associated with GBS and her models and data could be useful in studying these suspected causes, as well as finding better treatment and prevention options.
Despite the severity of GBS, treatments have been very limited and fail in many cases. The use of certain antibiotics in Mansfield's study aggravated neurological signs, lesions and the number of immune antibodies that can mistakenly attack a patient's own organs and tissues. "These models hold great potential for discovery of new treatments for this paralysis," Mansfield said.
"Many patients with GBS are critically ill and they can't participate in clinical trials. The models we identified can help solve this," she said. Those suffering from GBS can initially experience vomiting and diarrhoea, but can often write the symptoms off as eating bad food. One to three weeks later, they can begin to develop weakness and tingling in the feet and legs. Gradually, paralysis can spread to the upper body and arms, and even a respirator may be needed for breathing. The research was published in the Journal of Autoimmunity.