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Study reveals how hibernating bacteria can hide from antibiotics

Study reveals how hibernating ...
A new discovery reveals bacteria can release an enzyme slowing its growth in order to temporarily hide from attacking antibiotics
A new discovery reveals bacteria can release an enzyme slowing its growth in order to temporarily hide from attacking antibiotics
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A new discovery reveals bacteria can release an enzyme slowing its growth in order to temporarily hide from attacking antibiotics
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A new discovery reveals bacteria can release an enzyme slowing its growth in order to temporarily hide from attacking antibiotics

The battle against antibiotic resistant superbugs is one of the biggest challenges medical researchers are facing in the 21st century. But not all pathogenic bacteria needs to evolve a variant to avoid destruction from antibiotics. A new study has revealed that some bacteria can effectively enter a state of hibernation, waiting for the effects to antibiotics to pass, resulting in persistent and chronic infections.

One of the ways antibiotics work is by preventing bacterial growth. Different antibiotics utilize different techniques to achieve this, but in general the bacteria must replicate in order to be killed. One strategy pathogenic bacteria use to avoid antibiotics is to slow growth temporarily when antibiotics are present.

"We studied E. coli bacteria from urinary tract infections that had been treated with antibiotics and were supposedly under control," explains Kenn Gerdes, one of the researchers on the new study. "In time, the bacteria re-awoke and began to spread once again."

This process tends to explain why some people suffer from persistent recurring infections. Courses of antibiotics can stifle the growth of certain bacterial pathogens but some bacteria can enter this hibernation phase and avoid destruction.

"A bacterium in hibernation is not resistant. It is temporarily tolerant because it stops growing, which allows it to survive the effects of an antibiotic," says Gerdes.

The new research set out to discover how bacteria triggers this dormant phase. Using a relatively new method called phosphoproteomics, the researchers revealed that E. coli bacteria can produce a specific enzyme that inhibits its growth leading to physiologically dormant state.

It's unclear at this stage why, in a given bacterial population, some bacteria can trigger this enzyme and go dormant while others do not, but the study suggests the discovery offers exciting research pathways toward new drugs that can attack these hibernating bacterial cells.

"The enzyme triggers a 'survival program' that almost all disease-causing bacteria deploy to survive in the wild and resist antibiotics in the body," says Gerdes. "Developing an antibiotic that targets this general programme would be a major advance."

The research was published in the journal Science Signaling.

Source: University of Copenhagen

1 comment
Gregg Eshelman
Looks like they've found how chronic strep infections can't be eradicated, only controlled, with a life-long daily low dose of penicillin. In developed countries, such infections are now very rare because they nearly always get treated with antibiotics right away, eradicating the bacteria completely. But for people born before or during the early years of antibiotics, such infections can be more common. My father had that for many years because he had strep throat before WW2. He recovered, fortunately without heart damage, but in the latter half of his life he had periodic pains that only went away when taking penicillin. He kept telling the docs at the VA about that but they wouldn't just prescribe it to take care of the problem until several years after research showed that not only were chronic strep infections real, but that the only ways to keep them in check were either monthly shots of liquid penicillin or daily low dose tablets of it. Nevermind that before he had any dental work done all the time before, they'd prescribe penicillin because they knew of the chronic infection. I had to print out info on it from WebMD and other sites to show the VA docs. It's like the immune system is fighting a never ending war VS a guerilla uprising. It fights and gets the bacteria *almost* eradicated, then it backs off instead of finishing the job. The bacteria goes into hiding for weeks, months, maybe almost a year before flaring up again.