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Bacteria spill their guts to aid researchers in quest for new antibiotics

New findings about a protein that keeps cells alive by opening and closing pores within a cell's membrane may open the door to the development of new antibiotics.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are studying a protein, called MscL, found in the membrane of the single-cell bacterium Escherichia coli. The protein is essentially an emergency-response valve that changes shape to let salts and other solutes in and out of the cell through a process called "gating" in order to keep tension on the membrane steady. This gating process allows some of the cell's innards to spill out or liquid from the surrounding environment to rush in.

If this protein a type of which is found in nearly all microbes doesn't function properly, the cell may die. The researchers have refined previous descriptions of MscL, which may have implications for potential drug therapies designed to kill microorganisms. They also developed a novel way to manipulate the protein's gating, thus killing the bacteria.

p The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and are available online.

"If you're looking for targets for drug therapy and this protein could possibly be one you need to know what the target looks like and how it functions normally," said Dr. Paul Blount, assistant professor of physiology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "This information may help you predict drug interactions that lead to the desired effect, like killing the organism."

Previous studies on the MscL protein from the bacterium that causes tuberculosis provided the model for what scientists believed was MscL's structure in its "closed" state. But UT Southwestern researchers led by Dr. Blount found that structure may actually have represented the nearly closed, rather than fully closed, state. Knowing the difference between what the protein's structure looks like when it is in different confo
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Contact: Amanda Siegfried
amanda.siegfried@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
30-Jun-2004


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