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This blog post has been evaluated and endorsed by Timothy Sellati, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Global Lyme Alliance
Researchers at MIT and the University of Helsinki have discovered how sweat may protect against Lyme disease with a protein that kills the Lyme bacteria

Lyme disease, an illness transmitted by ticks carrying Lyme, affects more than half a million individuals in the United States annually. While antibiotics typically clear the infection, some patients endure lingering symptoms for extended periods. 

Exploring Sweat's Hidden Shield Against Lyme Disease 

Recently, researchers from MIT and the University of Helsinki have identified a protein in human sweat that is protective against Lyme disease. Their investigation also revealed that approximately one-third of the population carries a genetic variant of this protein, which may increase their susceptibility to Lyme disease according to genome-wide association studies. 

The mechanism by which the protein inhibits the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease remains unclear. However, the researchers envision leveraging its protective properties to develop skin creams for disease prevention or as a potential treatment for antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Harnessing Nature's Armor: Sweat as a Tool for Lyme Disease Defense 

Michal Caspi Tal, a principal research scientist at MIT, underscores the protein's potential for disease prevention and therapy. Collaborator Hanna Ollila from the University of Helsinki and the Broad Institute shares authorship on the study, published in Nature Communications, with lead author Satu Strausz from the University of Helsinki. 

Unexpectedly, the researchers discovered SCGB1D2, a secretoglobin primarily produced by sweat gland cells, among genetic markers linked to Lyme disease susceptibility. Secretoglobins, typically found in lung tissues, contribute to immune responses against infections. 

Experiments with normal and mutated versions of SCGB1D2 revealed its significant inhibitory effect on Borrelia burgdorferi growth—the bacterium causing Lyme disease. Mice injected with bacteria exposed to the normal protein remained uninfected, in contrast to those injected with bacteria exposed to the mutated version. 

Further validation from researchers in Estonia, using data from the Estonian Biobank, reinforced the study's findings. The researchers plan to investigate the protein's preventive potential by applying it to the skin of mice, exploring its efficacy against antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Insights and Caution in Lyme Disease Defense 

Despite these promising findings, individuals possessing the protective SCGB1D2 variant should not assume immunity to Lyme disease. Environmental factors, such as sweating during a tick bite, may influence susceptibility. 

This discovery opens avenues for novel approaches to Lyme disease prevention and potentially other skin infections. Michal Caspi Tal plans to explore the roles of other secretoglobin proteins in the body, particularly in lung health and immune responses. 

The study underscores the significance of secretoglobins as a potentially untapped class of antimicrobial proteins, offering new avenues for research and therapeutic development in infectious diseases. 

To learn more about this groundbreaking finding, read more here.  


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