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Key Anthrax Virulence Factor Discovered
Date:1/24/2008

Bacterial nitric oxide protects pathogen from immune system attacks

THURSDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have discovered how the anthrax bacterium protects itself from the immune system's biochemical assault.

The results reveal not only a novel aspect of anthrax virulence, they also suggest a new target, known as bacterial nitric oxide synthase (bNOS), for fighting the pathogen, said study leader Evgeny Nudler, a professor of biochemistry at the New York University School of Medicine.

"That is the obvious continuation of our work," said Nudler, "to find small molecule inhibitors of bacterial nitric oxide synthase that would not touch its human counterpart. If we are lucky, we will find this inhibitor that would potentially work as an antibiotic."

One expert thought the finding could have therapeutic potential.

"bNOS can definitely be a therapeutic target," said Philip Tierno Jr., director of clinical microbiology & immunology in the Departments of Microbiology & Pathology at New York University Medical Center. "Clearly they showed that it should be a target, and if that somehow could be met, they may have knocked out the virulence of the organism, as they showed in the mouse model."

"But it may be more complicated than the model suggests, and there may be more factors at play than they suggest," Tierno added. "Things may not be a simple as it seems, but it's certainly a step in the right direction and should be explored, and might offer a solution, especially because anthrax could be a viable candidate for a terrorist."

The results were reported in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Nudler, this study stems from earlier research in which his team determined that bNOS (an enzyme that synthesizes nitric oxide) protects some bacteria from the stress of oxidizing chemicals, including the hyd
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