Tuberculosis researchers find answer to 30-year-old puzzle

February 21, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- After three decades of searching, the random screening of a group of compounds against the bacterium that causes tuberculosis has led scientists to a eureka discovery that breaks through the fortress that protects the bacterium and allows it to survive and persist against treatments.

The two findings, which occurred at Colorado State University, are published today in . The article describes the of an important cell function in the bacterium that causes which allows the bacterium to survive. The researchers also discovered a compound that prevents this cell function.

The bacterium that causes tuberculosis is extremely difficult to kill and current tuberculosis drugs on the market don’t do well to treat it. Six months of multiple antibiotics are generally required to treat tuberculosis in most people, and many current drugs no longer work because of resistant strains of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Scientists hope that finding new drugs to kill the bacteria in ways different than current drugs will help tackle those strains.

Cell envelopes form a virtually impenetrable bubble around the bacterium cell and protect it. Mycolic acids are key portions of this bacterium’s cell envelope. They are made inside the cell, but have to cross the cell membrane – with the help of a transporter -- to reach their final location in the cell envelope.

“Without mycolic acids in the cell envelope, the bacteria die,” said Mary Jackson, one of the leading researchers on the project. Jackson is a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. “While randomly testing a group of compounds against the bacterium in the lab, we found one class of compounds that powerfully stops the growth of the bacterium—a significant finding on its own. When we looked closer, we found that the stopped a transporter from moving mycolic acids from inside to outside the cell, which also means this discovery identified a new method of killing the bacterium.

Scientists have been trying to find the transporter of mycolic acids for decades, knowing that understanding how to stop mycolic acids from reaching the surface of the cell could lead to new tuberculosis treatments.

“If mycolic acids cannot be transported, the tuberculosis bacterium cannot grow,” said Mike McNeil, co-researcher on the project with Jackson and also a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology at CSU. “It is like a factory making bricks and no way to get them to the construction site. It is a long, hard road to develop new, badly-needed tuberculosis drugs. Still, we are optimistic that this research will strongly contribute to the worldwide crusade to diminish suffering and death caused by tuberculosis.”

Jackson, McNeil and partner researchers from CSU and St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis also note that there are other potential transporters in the that resemble the one just found.

“We hope that our work also will pave the way to understanding what those transporters do in the cell and finding how to target them to kill the mycobacteria,” Jackson said.

Tuberculosis causes the death of more than 1.5 million people around the globe each year.

Explore further: External capsule protects gum disease-causing bacteria from immune response

Related Stories

External capsule protects gum disease-causing bacteria from immune response

November 17, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- The capsule of Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacterium that causes gum disease, provides stealth, boosting the bacterium’s virulence, according to a paper published in the November Infection and ...

Recommended for you

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

epsi00
not rated yet Feb 21, 2012
very good news.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.