NYU And Rockefeller Scientists Design Molecules That Stymie A Notorious Bug

NEW YORK, Feb. 15, 1999 -- Scientists at New York University School of Medicine and The Rockefeller University have discovered the structure of a key compound that enables a dangerous bug to cause devastating infections. They have also designed molecules that block the compound's effects, opening a novel way to combat these infections.

The scientists, led by NYU's Richard Novick, M.D., and Rockefeller's Tom Muir, Ph.D., found that an unusual peptide compound activates the disease-causing mechanism of Staphylococcus aureus, a notorious bacterium that each year infects some 500,000 hospitalized patients. By substituting parts of the compound with different chemicals, the researchers created compounds that dramatically weakened Staph infections in mice, according to a joint study published in the Feb. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"One of our long-term goals is to develop novel therapies to combat Staph," says Dr. Novick, Professor of Microbiology and Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. "Our study is extremely significant in that regard because it demonstrates the feasibility of constructing synthetic analogues that turn off Staph's ability to cause infection while leaving the bacterium intact. This may provide a way to get around the problem of antibiotic resistance because our analogues don't kill bacteria," he says.

Staphylococcus aureus causes a wide range of illnesses, from relatively minor skin abscesses to life-threatening toxic shock syndrome and other illnesses. Antibiotics kill the bacterium, but in recent years the wily bug increasingly has become resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics. The development of antibiotic-resistant strains of Staph and other bacteria has caused widespread alarm that one day there may be many so-called superbugs resistant to all known antibiotics.

Several years ago, Dr. Novick's laboratory discovered that a master gene, or glob

Contact: Lynn Odell or Joe Bonner
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine

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