Medicinal toothbrush tree yields antibiotic to treat TB in new way

January 14, 2013

A compound from the South African toothbrush tree inactivates a drug target for tuberculosis in a previously unseen way.

Tuberculosis causes more deaths worldwide than any other bacterial disease. At the same time as rates are increasing, resistance strains are emerging due, in part, to non-compliance with the treatment required. Many current drugs are nearly 50 years old and alternatives are needed to the long, demanding treatment schedules.

The compound under research, diospyrin, binds to a novel site on a well-known enzyme, called , and inactivates the enzyme. DNA gyrase is essential for bacteria and plants but is not present in animals or humans. It is established as an effective and safe for antibiotics.

"The way that diospyrin works helps to explain why it is effective against drug-sensitive and drug- of tuberculosis," said Professor Tony Maxwell from the John Innes Centre.

In traditional medicine the antibacterial properties of the tree are used for oral health and to treat medical complaints such bronchitis, pleurisy and venereal disease. Twigs from the tree are traditionally used as toothbrushes.

Most antibiotics originate from naturals sources, such as the Streptomyces. Antibiotics derived from plants are less common, but they are potentially rich sources of .

"Extracts from plants used in traditional medicine provide a source for that may have antibacterial properties, which may then be developed as antibiotics," said Professor Maxwell.

"This highlights the value of ethnobotany and the value of maintaining biodiversity to help us address global problems."

The work on diospyrin and related naphthoquinone compounds is being continued by Professor Maxwell as part of the efforts of a consortium of European researchers, More Medicines For Tuberculosis (MM4TB). The collaboration between 25 labs across Europe is dedicated to the development of new drugs for TB.

More information: The work is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry: www.jbc.org/cgi/doi/10.1074/jbc.M112.419069.

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