Ridding Bacteria Of Their ‘Anchors’ To Stop Infections

Bacteria grow nanofilaments that help them latch on to our insides; blocking the protein responsible could help in fighting off infections.

AsianScientist (May 27, 2016) – Scientists in Australia may have found a way to stop deadly bacteria from infecting patients. The discovery could lead to a whole new way of treating antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs.’ Their work was published in Nature Microbiology.

Almost every other woman suffers from a urinary tract infection during her lifetime, mostly caused by the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli. It travels along the urethra to the bladder where it triggers painful infections. In order to infect the bladder, which is constantly being flushed out with urine, the bacteria have developed nanofilaments which effectively ‘anchor’ the bacteria to the walls of the urinary tract.

A research team headed by Professor Trevor Lithgow from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University has found a protein—called the TAM—that is crucial to the assembly of these anchoring filaments. In the present study, the researchers developed an assay to measure the assembly of the filament-forming protein called usher.

“Using our assay, we tested whether blocking TAM had any effect on usher. What we found was that TAM is required for the assembly of usher and therefore for production of the filaments needed to anchor the bacteria to the urinary tract surface,” he said.

The assay revealed that, under normal circumstances, E. coli can create filaments within two minutes of sensing the urinary tract environment. However, when TAM is blocked, it can take up to four hours for the same anchoring process to happen.

According to Professor Lithgow, the discovery of how TAM impacts on the E. coli’s ability to latch onto the wall of the urinary tract could be a very important target for drug therapy.

“Most antibiotics against E. coli have to get across the bacterial cell membranes in order to kill the invader,” he said.

“The TAM is on the bacterial surface, so it is directly accessible to the sorts of drugs that would inhibit its function, and thereby halt the rapid production of these nanofilaments.”

Importantly, other potentially lethal bacteria also use filaments which are controlled through TAM, according to Lithgow.

The article can be found at: Stubenrauch et al. (2016) Effective Assembly of Fimbriae in Escherichia coli Depends on the Translocation Assembly Module Nanomachine.


Source: Monash University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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