A research team including University of Central Florida Microbiology Professor Keith Ireton is experimenting with the bacterial pathogen Listeria Monocytogenes to better understand the mechanisms of cell growth and cancer development.

In research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the team found that a Listeria protein called InlB induces internalisation and degradation of a human receptor known as Met, which has been implicated in the development of some cancers.

Lisa A. Elferink at the University of Texas Medical Branch, who led the team, together with Ireton, found that the ability of InlB to induce Met internalisation and degradation requires a human protein called Cbl. If scientists could discover how to control Cbl, such knowledge could lead to the development of drugs that induce the destruction of Met and which are therefore useful in treating Met-related cancers.
The team found that Listeria provokes human epithelial cells (cells lining the small intestine) into ingesting bacteria. When Listeria contacts an epithelial cell, the bacterium causes changes in the cell’s cytoskeleton that allow the cell to swallow up the bacterium. We discovered that a human protein, CrkII, plays a critical role in stimulating internalisation of Listeria by somehow controlling the cytoskeleton.