Study Illuminates How Some Bacteria Survive Antibiotic Treatment

Some bacteria survive antibiotic treatment by activating resistance mechanisms when exposed to antibiotics, according to a recent study in the journal Molecular Cell. The results could lead to more effective antibiotics to treat a variety of infections.

“When patients are treated with antibiotics some pathogenic microbes can turn on the genes that protect them from the action of the drug,” said Alexander Mankin, professor and associate director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and lead investigator of the study. “We studied how bacteria can feel the presence of erythromycin and activate production of the resistance genes.”

Sensing the presence of an antibiotic in the ribosomal tunnel, some bacteria have learned how to switch on genes that make them resistant to the drug. The phenomenon of inducible antibiotic expression was known decades ago, but the molecular mechanism was unknown. Mankin’s team of researchers include Nora Vazquez-Laslop, assistant professor in the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, and undergraduate student Celine Thum. assistant professor in the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, and undergraduate student Celine Thum.

“Combining biochemical data with the knowledge of the structure of the ribosome tunnel, we were able to identify some of the key molecular players involved in the induction mechanism,” said Vazquez-Laslop. “We only researched response to erythromycin-like drugs because the majority of the genetics were already known,” she said. “There may be other antibiotics and resistance genes in pathogenic bacteria regulated by this same mechanism. This is just the beginning.”

Source: Molecular Cell, April 24, 2008

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