For the first time, Israeli researchers have revealed the mechanism by which some bacteria are able to survive antibacterial treatment. Their work could pave the way for improved therapies in the future.
In a groundbreaking study, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists focused their microscopes on “persistent bacteria” which are not resistant to antibiotics and continue to exist in a dormant or inactive state while exposed to antibacterial treatment. These bacteria later “awaken” when that treatment is over, resuming their detrimental tasks, presenting a dilemma as to how to deal with them.
Until now, it had been known that there is a connection between these kinds of bacteria and the naturally occurring toxin HipA in the bacteria, but scientists did not know the cellular target of this toxin and how its activity triggers dormancy of the bacteria.
Now, the Hebrew University researchers, led by Prof. Gadi Glaser of the Faculty of Medicine and Prof. Nathalie Balaban of the Racah Institute of Physics, have been able to demonstrate how this comes about. Their research showed that when antibiotics attack these bacteria, the HipA toxin disrupts the chemical “messaging” process necessary for nutrients to build proteins. This is interpreted by the bacteria as a “hunger signal” and sends them into an inactive state, (dormancy) in which they are able to survive until the antibacterial treatment is over and they can resume their harmful activity.
The researchers hope the new information will lead to more effective treatment for bacterial infections.