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Scientists Spot Key to Cystic Fibrosis Infections

Targeting pigments in mucus could fight deadly,,bacteria in lungs

TUESDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Blue-green pigments called phenazines that stain the mucus in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients are signaling molecules that could spur dangerous infections, researchers say.

The pigments may enable infectious Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria to form into structured communities, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study.

The finding could lead to the development of drugs that target phenazines to treat P. aeruginosa infections in CF patients, said the researchers, who presented their findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology.

Healthy people can easily cope with P. aeruginosa, but it's the leading cause of death among CF patients, because it chokes their lungs with sticky mucus.

It's long been believed that phenazines were antibiotics, generated by P. aeruginosa to kill off its bacterial competitors in the lungs.

In laboratory studies, the MIT researchers found that phenazines create a smooth biofilm surface under which a P. aeruginosa colony can thrive. The less phenazine there is, the weaker the colony surface.

"We have a long way to go before being able to test this idea, but the hope is that if survival in the lung is influenced by phenazine -- or some other electron-shuttling molecule or molecules -- tampering with phenazine trafficking might be a potential way to make antibiotics more effective," study leader Dianne K. Newman, a professor of biology and geobiology, explained in an MIT news release.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about cystic fibrosis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news release, Dec. 16, 2008

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