Scientists have discovered a signaling pathway that tuberculosis bacteria use to coerce disease-fighting cells to switch allegiance and work on their behalf. Epithelial cells line the airways and other surfaces to protect and defend the body. Tuberculosis bacteria co-opt these epithelial cells into helping create tubercles: the small, rounded masses characteristic of TB. The tubercles enable the bacteria to expand their numbers and spread to other locations.
By inciting parts of the immune system to go into overdrive, this same molecular signaling pathway may play other roles in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and some forms of heart disease and cancer
"If we could keep this pathway from inciting the host immune system, we may be well on the way to finding innovative new therapies against TB, as well as other serious disorders," said the senior researcher on the study, Dr. Lalita Ramakrishnan, University of Washington (UW) associate professor of microbiology, medicine, and immunology. The results appear in the Dec. 10, 2009 express edition of Science.
Global health researchers are eager for new treatments for TB because many strains worldwide have become resistant to standard antimicrobials. Blocking a host pathway that the bacteria use would be an entirely different approach, Ramakrishnan explained, because it would keep the body from allowing the infection to take hold and be sustained, rather than a treatment aimed at killing the bacteria themselves. A host pathway blocker, if one becomes available, might also be quicker than current therapies, which take a long time to subdue the TB infection.
"Most diseases, such as high blood pressure and depression, are already being treated by blockers and inhibitors of host enzymes and pathways," Ramakrishnan noted, "Many of these turn down certain cell signals as part of their therapeutic action. We and some other researchers are now exploring the possib
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University of Washington