The researchers from The Roslin Institute have identified a toxin, known as SElX, which is released by virtually all strains of the bug. Its release makes immune cells multiply too fast, which can lead to high fever, toxic shock and potentially fatal lung infections.
The study, which has been published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, will help research to find drugs that could target the toxin and prevent damage to healthy cells.
MRSA strains produce different types of toxin, but identifying SElX is particularly important because it is made by so many strains of the superbug.
Dr Ross Fitzgerald, from The Roslin Institute, said: “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.”
His colleague Gill Wilson added: MRSA continues to be a global problem. This research could help us find a new way to target the infection.”