The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae – which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia and sepsis – likes to share its antibiotic-defeating weaponry with its neighbors. Individual cells can pass resistance genes to one another through a process called horizontal gene transfer, or by "transformation," the uptake of DNA from the environment.
Now researchers report that they can interrupt the cascade of cellular events that allows S. pneumoniae to swap or suck up DNA. The new findings, reported in the journal PLoS ONE, advance the effort to develop a reliable method for shutting down the spread of drug resistance in bacteria.
"Within the last few decades, S. pneumoniae has developed resistance to several classes of antibiotics," said University of Illinois pathobiology professor Gee Lau, who led the study. "Importantly, it has been shown that antibiotic stress – the use of antibiotics to treat an infection – can actually induce the transfer of resistance genes among S. pneumoniae. Our approach inhibits resistance gene transfer in all strains of S. pneumoniae, and does so without increasing selective pressure and without increasing the likelihood that resistant strains will become dominant."
Lau and his colleagues focused on blocking a protein that, when it binds to a receptor in the bacterial cell membrane, spurs a series of events in the cell that makes the bacterium "competent" to receive new genetic material. The researchers hypothesized that interfering with this protein (called CSP) would hinder its ability to promote gene transfer.
In previous work published late last year in the journal PLoS Pathogens, Lau's team identified proteins that could be made in the lab that were structurally very similar to the CSP proteins. These artificial CSPs can dock with the membrane receptors, block the bacterial CSPs' access to the receptors and reduce bacterial competence, as well as reducing the infectious capacity of S. pneumoniae.
In the new study, the researchers fine-tuned the amino acid structure of more than a dozen artificial CSPs and tested how well they inhibited the S. pneumoniae CSPs. They also tested their ability (or, more desirably, their inability) to mimic the activity of CSPs in bacterial cells.
"The chemical properties of individual amino acids in a protein can greatly influence the protein's activity," Lau said.
The team identified several artificial CSPs that both inhibited the bacterial CSPs and reduced S. pneumoniae competence by more than 90 percent.
"This strategy will likely help us reduce the spread of antibiotic-resistance genes among S. pneumoniae and perhaps other species of streptococcus bacteria," Lau said.
Paper: "Saturated Alanine Scanning Mutagenesis of the Pneumococcus Competence Stimulating Peptide Identifies Analogs That Inhibit Genetic Transformation." PLoS ONE
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: http://www.uiuc.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Free-living songbirds show increased stress hormone levels when nesting under white street lights. But different light spectra may have different physiological effects as this study finds, suggesting that using street lights with specific colour spectra may mitigate effects of light pollution on wildlife
Scientists identify the condition aphantasia, in which people cannot create images in their head
The dust in our homes contains an average of 9,000 different types of fungi and bacteria, a study suggests.
A mosquito can bear up to 23 times its total body weight on each leg, which is crucial for landing on water – the insect's secret is way it stands
Tropical species with smaller geographical ranges are more likely to die out in a warming climate than those that can adapt by ‘invading’ new regions
Most people think of bacteria as germs, signs of filth, or unwanted bringers of disease. Slowly, that view …
The gloomy octopuses crowded at Jervis Bay, Australia, appear to spit and throw debris such as shell at each other in what could be an intentional use of weapons
Therapies based on hormones that make us more trusting enhance our natural placebo effect – a finding that could alter the way clinical trials are conducted
The blind, hairless babies born recently at Washington D.C.'s National Zoo are completely dependent on their mothers—who can sometimes accidentally crush them.
The poop-hoarding insects have an amazingly advanced internal GPS that allows them to navigate by day or night.