Texas Tech pharmaceutical professor explains links between stress and infection

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Last Thursday, Sam Houston hosted guest speaker Dr. Mark Lyte, where he discussed his research in microbial endocrinology and discoveries of the links between stress and infection.

Dr. Mark Lyte is a Professor from the School of Pharmacy at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, and has done extensive research in the field of microbial endocrinology.

“Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, and in this case, is really medical microbiology, studying microorganisms that have effects on human health,” said Todd Primm, Department Chair of Biological Sciences and host of the seminar. “Endocrinology is the study of hormones and their effects, so the relatively new field of microbial endocrinology is based on the discovery that bacteria can respond to neuroendocrine hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenaline). What this means is that bacteria can sense the stress level of the human or other animal host, and respond to that.”

“Probably all college students have heard of bacterial pathogens that can make you sick, such as Salmonella”, said Primm. “Most have also heard of probiotics, that is, taking ‘good’ microbes to improve health, as in eating yogurt. Well, as is common in biomedical science, the actual situation is more complicated than that. Lyte’s work has shown that the levels of, and different composition of, microbes in the gut of mice can affect their memory, thus, the interactions between the nervous system and our resident bacteria. Work from his lab and others have also shown that normally beneficial bacteria can turn against youand can cause infections, given the right conditions.”

“This all means that humans are really a giant symbiotic organism, between your own human cells and systems and huge numbers of bacteria and fungi all over your body and inside your gut. This relationship is critical for your proper health, but still poorly understood by scientists. The idea to kill all bacteria and use antibacterial products as a way to improve health is as silly as burning down an entire forest to get rid of one beaver.”

“Most students have also heard that stress is bad and lowers your immune system function. Dr. Lyte’s work has shown that this is not always the case, in many instances stress increases the immune response, thus again, the picture is more complicated than we first thought.

Some developments in medicine that have come from this work include; a novel set of drugs that can block bacteria being able to grow in response to hormones, thus preventing infections, and a better understanding of how intestinal infections can occur.”

The Department of Biological Sciences has a weekly seminar series, directed by Dr. Chad Hargrave, including an invited speaker for every week of the semester. Seminars are held at 4 p.m. in LDB room 214, preceded by a meet-and-greet social at 3:30 p.m. in the atrium. For more information go to http://www.shsu.edu/~bio_www/seminarseries.html.