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NIH Scientists Find New Target to Block Staph Infections

Toxin transport system may hold key to bacterial death (Feb. 11)

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, have identified a promising lead for developing a new type of drug to treat infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus — a bacterium that frequently resists traditional antibiotics.

The researchers discovered a system used by S. aureus to transport toxins that are thought to contribute to severe staph infections. These toxins — called phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs) — have gained much attention in recent years, but their multitude and diversity have hindered efforts to target them for drug development.

Expanding on work that first described S. aureus PSMs in 2007, the researchers found that the transport system — which they call Pmt — is common to all S. aureus PSMs and is critical for bacterial proliferation and disease development in a mouse model. Their experiments suggest that a drug interfering with the function of Pmt could not only prevent production of the PSM toxins, but could also directly lead to bacterial death.

Although their study focused on S. aureus, the investigators suspect that Pmt performs the same role in other staphylococci, such as S. epidermidis — the leading cause of hospital-associated infections involving indwelling medical devices, such as catheters, pacemakers, and prosthetics. They plan to continue their studies to improve the understanding of how PSMs function and to learn how to interfere with the Pmt transport system to block disease.

The new study was published in Nature Medicine.

Source: NIAID; February 11, 2013.

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