Protein in Human Sweat Could Be Key to Protecting against Lyme Disease, Study Shows

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Researchers from MIT and the University of Helsinki have discovered a promising avenue for combating Lyme disease through a protein found in human sweat. This breakthrough offers hope for new preventative strategies and treatments for the half a million Americans affected by the illness, especially those whose infections are resistant to conventional antibiotics.

Protein found in sweat hinders growth of Lyme disease causing bacteria

Lyme disease, mainly transmitted by ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, manifests in symptoms like headaches, fever, and fatigue, often accompanied by a distinctive bulls-eye rash. Though antibiotics usually resolve the infection, some individuals may suffer from lingering symptoms.

Michal Caspi Tal, lead research scientist at MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering, suggests that a certain protein could offer protection against Lyme disease. The findings propose potential implications for developing preventive and therapeutic measures utilizing this protein.

The study aimed to investigate genetic factors associated with susceptibility to Lyme disease. Published in Nature Communications, the study identified SCGB1D2, a protective protein found in sweat, which shows efficacy against Lyme disease bacteria.

Secretoglobins are immune-response proteins primarily present in lung and organ tissues. Research reveals that the regular form of SCGB1D2 inhibits Borrelia burgdorferi growth. However, a genetic variant, found in about one-third of people, needs double the protein amount for similar effectiveness. Thus, individuals with the more potent variant may possess a natural defense against Lyme disease.

Normal SCGB1D2 variant offers protection against Lyme disease

Researchers conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on a Finnish dataset comprising genetic information and medical records of 410,000 individuals to identify genetic variations linked to diseases. They identified the SCGB1D2 variant, previously unlinked to Lyme disease, arousing curiosity about its potential involvement.

Subsequent experiments involved exposing Borrelia burgdorferi to both normal and mutated SCGB1D2 variants, then injecting these bacteria into mice. Remarkably, mice exposed to the normal protein variant showed no signs of Lyme disease, indicating a strong protective effect.

According to Kara Spiller, a professor at Drexel University, the discovery offers a novel method for Lyme disease prevention and potentially other skin infections.

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