Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New strategy makes antibiotics much more effective

Bacteria are known to produce hydrogen sulfide, which was long believed to be a by-product of cellular activities. However, scientists from NYU School of Medicine have shown that it is actually involved in an important process. Their findings reveal that the chemical compound is used in a mechanism that we can target to make antibiotics more effective. If we can develop adequate drugs based on this finding, we can improve treatment of bacterial infections, and perhaps reduce the number of deaths related to bacteria that are resistant to our current range of antibiotics.
It appears that hydrogen sulfide, or H2S plays a role in preventing oxidative stress. Its anti-oxidative properties make it an important factor in preventing damage to the bacterial cell, induced by oxygen radicals. Anti-oxidants scavenge these highly reactive molecules, that will pretty much react with everything they bump into, causing damage to cellular structures. Because a lot of antibiotics work with inducing oxidative stress, finding strategies to reduce H2S means that we can significantly improve the function of current antibiotic compounds. The researchers have already shown that H2S also plays a role in providing protection from antibiotics. Therefore, developing a H2S-based therapy has become very relevant.

Because bacteria need H2S to provide protection against harmful oxygen radicals, in addition to protecting themselves from the toxins we give them, it has a very important function in keeping the cell alive. That is why we can not only improve our current range of antibiotics with this finding, but also develop standalone drugs based on the H2S mechanism. It has been found that bacteria can not live without it, and because a lot of different strains are dependent on it, H2S targeting could prove to be effective in many diseases caused by bacterial infections.

H2S, which is produced in the form of gas, is not the only compound bacteria are dependent on. Earlier, a group from the same university has revealed that nitric oxide (NO) also plays an important role in keeping the bacterial cell alive. However, there are less bacteria dependent on NO, compared to H2S.

Earlier, scientists showed that bacteria lacking enough nutrients to sustain themselves can revert into some sort of survival mode. It allows them to shut down many cellular processes, to cut down on energy use. In addition, they find themselves better equipped to withstand antibiotics that work by inducing oxidative stress.  That adds to the H2S findings, which also play a role in this mechanism. Moreover, researchers found a set of prehistoric proteins that may aid the development of new antibiotics.

While resistance to our current range of anti-bacterial drugs is a growing problem, it seems that we have many new areas we can explore to keep killing bacteria before they kill us.

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