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UofL researcher determines how Legionnaires' bacteria proliferate, cause disease
Date:11/17/2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. A University of Louisville scientist has determined for the first time how the bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease manipulates our cells to generate the amino acids it needs to grow and cause infection and inflammation in the lungs. The results are published online today (Nov. 17) in "Science."

Yousef Abu Kwaik, Ph.D., the Bumgardner Endowed Professor in Molecular Pathogenesis of Microbial Infections at UofL, and his team believe their work could help lead to development of new antibiotics and vaccines.

"It is possible that the process we have identified presents a great target for new research in antibiotic and vaccine candidates, not only for Legionnaires' disease but in other bacteria that cause illness," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionnaires' disease is a lung infection caused by the bacterium called Legionella. The bacterium got its name in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown causes that was later determined to be caused by the bacterium. Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease in the U.S. There is no vaccine currently available for it.

For two years, the researchers examined Legionella which is an intercellular bacterium that exists in amoebae in the water systems; it is transmitted to humans through inhalation of water droplets. Cooling towers and whirlpools are the major sources of transmission. The bacterium uses the amoeba's cellular process to "tag" proteins, causing them to degrade into their basic elements of amino acids. These amino acids are used by the bacteria as the main source of energy to grow and cause disease.

"The bacteria live on an 'Atkins diet' of low carbs and high protein, and they trick the host cell to provide that specialized diet," Abu Kwaik said.

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Contact: Jill Scoggins
jill.scoggins@louisville.edu
502-852-7461
University of Louisville
Source:Eurekalert

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