According to an investigation led by the University of Edinburgh, targeting a toxin that is released by almost all strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), might help scientist create new drugs to fight against the superbug. The study is published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

They discovered the toxin SElx – damages healthy cells and causes the body’s immune system to go into overdrive.

SElx is formed by 95% of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and contains MRSA strains that are connected with hospital-acquired infections.

When the toxin is released it activates an overdrive in the duplication of immune cells, which can result in toxic shock, high fever and potentially fatal lung infections.

The study will help investigators to develop new drugs to target the toxin and prevent damage to healthy cells.

The study, conducted by the Universities of Edinburgh, Mississippi State and Iowa, examined a MRSA strain known as USA300. This strain can cause severe infections to individuals who are otherwise healthy.

Even though it is known that MRSA strains can produce different types of toxins, the researchers discovered that SElx is made up by almost all strains of the superbug. SElx belongs to a group of toxins known as superantigens, which can trigger an extreme immune response.

Dr Ross Fitzgerald, from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, explained:

“If we can find ways to target this toxin, we can stop it from triggering an over-reaction of the body’s immune system and prevent severe infections”

Gill Wilson, of The Roslin Institute and first author on the paper, stated:

“MRSA continues to be a global problem. This research could help us find a new way to target the infection.”

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the National Institutes of Health, USA, the US Department of Agriculture and Pfizer Animal Health, funded the investigation.

Written by Grace Rattue