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Overcoming anthrax bacterium's natural defenses could hold key to new treatments
Date:5/18/2010

Army scientists have discovered a way to "trick" the bacterium that causes anthrax into shedding its protective covering, making it easier for the body's immune system to mount a defense. The study, which appears in this month's issue of the journal MICROBIOLOGY, could lead to new approaches for treating anthrax infection.

Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is particularly lethal because of its protective coating, or capsule, which enables the pathogen to escape destruction by the host's immune system. A key bacterial enzyme called capsule depolymerase, or CapD, anchors the capsule to the cell surface. CapD also cuts and releases part of the capsule into small fragments that are thought to interfere with specific parts of the immune system, offering further protection to the bacterium. The rest of the capsule remains intact.

Finding a way to cause B. anthracis to unmask itself, using the bacterium's own machinery, would be a novel approach to defeating the pathogen. So scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) induced B. anthracis to make higher-than-normal amounts of CapD, resulting in release of the capsule fragments. This left very little capsule attached to the bacterial cells. As a result, the unprotected bacteria were left vulnerable to immediate detection and destruction by the cells of the immune system.

"By engineering B. anthracis to over-produce CapD, we are effectively turning the bacterium's own weapon on itself," explained Dr. Arthur Friedlander, one of the study's principal investigators. He believes the USAMRIID group's findings could have significant clinical impact.

"Many pathogenic bacteria, including B. anthracis, produce a capsule surrounding them that prevents the infected host from killing them, improving their chances of causing disease," he explained. "Understanding the mechanisms of virulence us
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Contact: Caree Vander Linden
Caree.VanderLinden@us.army.mil
301-619-2285
US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
Source:Eurekalert

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