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Scripps research scientists identify blood component that turns bacteria virulent
Date:11/21/2008

LA JOLLA, CA, November 20, 2008Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have discovered the key chemical that signals Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, to become lethal. This finding opens up new avenues of exploration for the development of treatments for bacterial infections.

The study was published in the November 21 edition of the journal PLoS Pathogens.

The Scripps Research scientists identified bicarbonate, a chemical found in all body fluids and organs that plays a major role in maintaining pH balance in cells, as providing the signal for Bacillus anthracis to unleash virulence factors. Without the presence of the bicarbonate transporter in the bloodstream, the scientists found, the bacteria do not become virulent.

Scientists have known for some time that bicarbonate is implicated in many diseases, but controversy has existed about whether bicarbonate, carbon dioxide, or some combination of these two molecules are responsible for triggering bacterial pathogenesis. This study confirms, for the first time, that it is indeed bicarbonate, rather than carbon dioxide, that signals the gram-positive B. anthracis to become virulent. This finding also is significant because other pathogenic bacteria such as Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli, Borrelia burgdorferi, and Vibrio cholera have bicarbonate transport pathways similar to B. anthracis and thus are likely to have similar virulence triggering mechanisms.

Gram-positive bacteria are the major culprits driving the increase of community and hospital acquired bacterial infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 10 percent of all patients, or about 2 million people, contract hospital acquired infections each year. These bacteria are often resistant to multiple antibiotics, making the problem a growing public health concern and the need for new antibacterial treatment more urgent. Now, the
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Contact: Keith Mckeown
kmckeown@scripps.edu
858-784-8134
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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