Defence strategy

With researchers discovering the evading mechanism of the anthrax bacteria, better drugs may be on the anvil

Published: Monday 30 September 2002

-- the mechanism by which inhaled anthrax disarms and evades the human immune system, enabling the potentially lethal bacteria to rapidly spread throughout the body has been discovered by researchers from the University of California, usa. Their research describes how a complex of the anthrax bacteria's proteins called lethal toxin (lt) inhibits and destroys alveolar macrophages -- white blood cells that act as body's defence against pathogens. This allows the bacteria to spread unchecked.

In order to understand the bacteria's evading mechanism, the research team conducted tests on mice. On the basis of a variety of laboratory analysis, they determined how lt causes cell death in mouse macrophages. They pinpointed a series of steps and specifically inhibition of an enzyme called p38, which leads to the macrophages' death and prevents secretion of chemokines and cytokines -- the signalling agents that alert the immune system to the presence of an invading pathogen. According to the researchers, their findings open the door for development of an antidote that could block the action of lt. "If we are correct, inhibition of the toxin's activity should give our bodies enough time to fight the infection," said Michael Karin, lead author of the study.

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