Meningitis and sepsis: what makes meningococci so resistant

Meningitis and sepsis: what makes meningococci so resistant

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Newly discovered protein with great effect

Meningococci are dangerous bacteria that can cause life-threatening meningitis (meningitis) and blood poisoning (sepsis). So far it has been unclear what makes the bacterium so successful in causing such serious diseases. A German research team has now clarified this, paving the way for better therapies.

Researchers at the Julius Maximilians University in Würzburg have deciphered the role of the ProQ protein, which is found in meningococcal bacteria and ensures that the bacteria are particularly resistant, which makes them critical pathogens. The research results were recently presented in the renowned journal "Nature Communications".

ProQ: Protein makes meningococci strong

In meningococci (Neisseria meningitidis), the current study shows that the ProQ protein plays a major role when it comes to the disease-causing properties of the bacteria. The protein is involved in the government and activation of over 250 bacterial genes. It is essential for meningococci to better repair damage to their genes, which makes them resistant to oxidative stress.

Small but strong

"We were surprised that a comparatively small protein can have such a major impact on bacterial gene regulation," reports Professor Christoph Schoen, one of the study’s research directors. ProQ consists of only around 120 amino acids. Even medium-sized proteins usually consist of several hundred amino acids.

"Meningococci interact with almost 200 different RNA molecules," adds Jörg Vogel, the research's second research director. It binds to highly structured regions of the RNA and thus stabilizes its binding partners, explains the scientist.

A new target for meningococci

The protein represents a promising target for new therapies against meningococci. "We hope to be able to disrupt the function of the binding proteins with relatively simple active ingredients and thus weaken the pathogens," emphasizes Vogel. Overall, however, the associated binding proteins have not yet been identified in two thirds of all RNA classes in meningococci. "Our goal is to systematically identify the entire inventory of RNA binding proteins in meningococci using established high-throughput methods," summarizes Schoen.

Read also: Underestimated risk of blood poisoning: one in five dies of sepsis - these are the symptoms.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg: Small protein, big effect (published: June 4th, 2020),
  • Saskia Bauriedl, Milan Gerovac, Nadja Heidrich, and others: The minimal meningococcal ProQ protein has an intrinsic capacity for structure-based global RNA recognition; in: Nature Communications, 2020,

Video: Meningococcal Disease: A Parents Story (August 2022).