Scientists identify structure of key bacteria componentJanuary 13th, 2009 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS
London, Jan 13 (IANS) Scientists have identified the structure of a key component of the bacteria behind such diseases as whooping cough, peptic stomach ulcers and Legionnaires’ disease. The research sheds light on how antibiotic resistance genes spread from one bacterium to another. These findings may open the way for development of more effective treatments and curtail spread of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance spreads when genetic material is exchanged between two bacteria, one of which has mutated to be resistant to the drugs.
This exchange is facilitated by a multi-component vehicle known as a type IV secretion system, which acts to transport antibiotic resistance genes from within one cell, through its membrane and into a neighbouring cell.
Type IV secretion systems also play an essential role in transporting toxins or proteins from within bacteria into the cells of the body, causing diseases.
Examples of gram-negative bacterial pathogens using such a vehicle are Helicobacter pylori (which causes peptic ulcers), Legionella pneumophila (which causes Legionnaires’ disease), and Bordetella pertussis (which causes whooping cough).
Scientists from the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) at Birkbeck, University of London, and UCL (University College London) described the structure of the core complex of a type IV secretion system, viewed using cryoelectron microscopy (a form of electron microscopy where the sample is studied at very low temperatures).
“Type IV secretion systems play key roles in secreting toxins which give certain bacteria their disease-causing properties and, importantly, are also directly involved in the spread of antibiotic resistance,” said Gabriel Waksman, director of the ISMB and co-author of the study.
“This is why they have become obvious targets in the vast effort required to fight infectious diseases caused by bacteria.”
Gram-negative bacteria have a double membrane. At the core of the type IV secretion system is a double-walled chamber which spans the two membranes and opens at one side. Waksman believes this chamber may offer a new pathway for targeting these bacteria, said an ISMB release.
“If we can inhibit the secretion systems that mediate transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from one bacterial pathogen to another, we could potentially prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance genes,” he said.
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