Starving Pneumonia-Causing Bacteria From Favorite ‘Food’ Shows Promise For New Antibiotics


Australian researchers have revealed how the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) obtains the essential nutrient, manganese, from our bodies, which could lead to better therapies to target what is a potentially fatal, antibiotic-resistant pathogen.

Pneumococcus is one of the deadliest organisms in the world, responsible for more than one million deaths each year and is the leading infectious cause of death in children under five. It is the main cause of bacterial pneumonia, as well as a major cause of meningitis, sepsis and infections of the inner ear (otitis media).

Published today in Science Advances and after ten years of detailed investigations, researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) and the Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology Institute (Bio21), as well as collaborators from the Australian National University and Kyoto University, Japan, determined the unique “gateway” structure that the pneumococcus uses to steal manganese from the body.

All organisms, including pathogens, need vitamins and minerals to survive. While the researchers knew that manganese was essential for the survival of the pneumococcus, it was not understood how it took manganese from the body.

University of Melbourne associate professor Megan Maher, chief of laboratory at Bio21, said she noticed that the bacteria take up nutrients in a regulated manner.

“Eventually, we found that this was due to a unique gateway that is in the bacteria’s membrane that opens and closes to specifically allow manganese to enter,” Associate Professor Maher said.

“This is a completely new structure that has never been seen in a pathogen like this.”

Professor Christopher McDevitt of the University of Melbourne, head of laboratory at the Doherty Institute, said the study results altered what we know about the survival of the pathogen.

“Previously, these gateways were thought to act like Teflon-coated channels in the sense that everything just passed through,” explained Professor McDevitt.

“Now we understand that it selectively attracts manganese. Any disruption of this gateway starves the manganese pathogen, preventing it from causing disease.”

It may hold the key to better alternative therapies for pneumococcus.

Although a pneumococcal vaccine exists, it offers only limited protection against circulating strains and rates of antibiotic resistance are increasing rapidly.

“It’s a really attractive therapeutic target because it’s on the surface of the bacteria, and our bodies don’t use that kind of gateway,” said Professor McDevitt.

“At a time when we are witnessing increasing resistance to our first and last line antibiotics, and the emergence of ‘superbugs’, it is important that we consider new strategies to control this deadly organism. “

/ Public distribution. This material is from the original organization and may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. See it in full here.


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