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Scientists Develop New Strategy to Fight Bacterial Infections

‘Naked’ bugs can’t attach to cells (January 29)

Researchers in Flanders, Belgium, have identified a chemical substance with the potential to act as a new drug to treat bacterial infections, particularly urinary tract infections (UTIs).

In contrast to commonly used antibiotics, the candidate drug does not destroy pathogenic bacteria, but rather disarms them. The benefit of this new strategy is that other (useful) bacteria are unharmed, and there is a lower risk of bacterial resistance.

Many pathogenic bacteria attach to cells before they infect them. The researchers succeeded in inhibiting this crucial step, thereby disarming the bacteria. They focused on the bacterium that causes almost 80% of UTIs: Escherichia coli.

To prevent being excreted in the urine, E. coli bacteria attach themselves to cells with the aid of hair-like structures called type-1 pili. In 2011, Dr. Han Remaut and his colleagues were the first to describe the mechanism behind pilus formation. Further research was necessary to translate these structural insights into potential drug candidates.

The investigators started screening databases of chemical components in search of molecules that could inhibit pilus formation. This search yielded an inhibitor that interferes with an essential step in the pili’s assembly process.

The researchers found that E. coli bacteria exposed to the new molecule could no longer produce pili. As a result, the “naked” bacteria were unable to attach to host cells.

Co-lead investigator Dr. Alvin Lo commented: “E. coli is not the only pathogenic bacterium that uses this mechanism for attachment. If further research reveals that our molecule does indeed efficiently combat urinary tract infections, then we can also use this strategy in the fight against other infectious diseases, such as food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea.”

Source: VIB; January 29, 2014.

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