Brain neurons involved in detecting bitter tastes can help to fight off bacterial infections, according to a study in zebrafish.
Work by the Paris Brain Institute, and UMC Amsterdam, Netherlands, identified a new role for cerebrospinal fluid-contacting (CSF) neurons in protecting against pneumococcal meningitis – a bacterial infection affecting the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, which has a high risk of death.
CSF neurons are important for body posture and movement in many animals, including humans, as well as detecting bitterness (and possible contaminants) in food.
The team found that these neurons were activated in zebrafish embryos after infection with pneumococcal meningitis, and were able to identify and mount an immune response against the bacteria.
Ultimately, the team say that a better understanding of these neurons may open up possible treatments for other nervous system infections, which do not yet have vaccines.