Anthrax spores use failsafe protection system, say U-M scientists

tes -- the scavenger cells of the immune system," Ireland explains. "But even in the macrophage where conditions are optimum for germination, the spore remains intact until at least two separate signaling pathways are activated."

Because it can be handled safely outside a high-level bio-containment laboratory, Hanna and Ireland used Sterne-based strains of anthrax in their research. The Sterne strain has been altered to remove dangerous infectious segments of the anthrax molecule called plasmids.

U-M scientists checked the genetic sequence of Sterne genes used in their study against the same genes in Bacillus anthracis Ames, the deadliest strain of anthrax, and found them to be a close match. B.anthracis gene sequences were provided by Tim Read, senior scientist at the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland.

Major findings of the study include:

Host signals from alanine and inosine were strong spore cogerminants when combined with other amino acids.

  • Alanine was capable of triggering a strong, rapid germination response independently, but only when alanine concentrations were many times above normal cellular levels.
  • Germinants vary depending on the anthrax bacterial species. Inosine is a strong independent germinant for B. cereus, but not for B. anthracis.
  • A gene called gerS, present in both the Sterne strain and Ames strain of B.anthracis, appears to trigger two major signaling pathways. Similar genes have been found in other species of anthrax and may control germination in those species.
  • Receptor proteins produced when the gerS gene is active respond specifically to the aromatic rings on certain types of amino acids and ribonucleosides.


Contact: Sally Pobojewski
University of Michigan Health System

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