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Scientists decipher mechanism behind antimicrobial 'hole punchers'
Date:9/20/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. In the battle against bacteria, researchers have scored a direct hit. They have made a discovery that could shorten the road to new and more potent antibiotics.

The rapid development of bacterial resistance to conventional antibiotics (such as penicillin or vancomycin) has become a major public health concern. Because resistant strains of bacteria can arise faster than drug companies can create antibiotics, understanding how these molecules function could help companies narrow their focus on potential antibiotics and bring them to market sooner.

As reported in a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and posted on its Web site, researchers have now deciphered the molecular mechanism behind selective antimicrobial activity for a prototypical class of synthetic compounds.

The compounds, which mimic antimicrobial peptides found in biological immune systems, function as molecular hole punchers, punching holes in the membranes of bacteria, said Gerard Wong, a professor of materials science and engineering, physics, and bioengineering at the U. of I., and a corresponding author of the paper. Its a little like shooting them with a hail of nanometer-sized bullets the perforated membranes leak and the bacteria consequently die.

The researchers also determined why some compounds punch holes only in bacteria, while others kill everything within reach, including human cells.

We can use this as a kind of Rosetta stone to decipher the mechanisms of much more complicated antimicrobial molecules, said Wong, who also is a researcher at the universitys Beckman Institute.

If we can understand the design rules of how these molecules work, then we can assemble an arsenal of killer molecules with small variations, and no longer worry about antimicrobial resistance.

In a collaboration between the U. of I. and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the researchers first synthesized a prototypica
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Contact: James E. Kloeppel
kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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