New model of staph drug resistance implicates unlikely protein

Findings may lead to new drugs that overcome resistance

Researchers at The Rockefeller University have established a new model to explain how the infectious "staph" bacterium evades several widely used antibiotics. They show that a protein previously thought to play no role in drug resistance in Staphylococcus aureus is, in fact, essential.

The new study, which is co-authored by Mariana Pinho, Hermnia de Lencastre, Ph.D, and Alexander Tomasz, Ph.D., and appears in the August 21 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, emphasizes the importance of looking for new antibiotics that target this protein.

"Mariana's work shows that the old model of drug resistance in staphylococci is no longer tenable," says Tomasz, principal investigator of the research and professor at Rockefeller.

Since the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, Staphylococcus aureus, the number one cause of potentially life-threatening hospital-borne infections, has developed several mechanisms to beat the potentially lethal effects of chemotherapeutic agents. Of these bacterial tricks, the most important was the acquisition of a foreign gene - the mecA gene - that confers resistance to methicillin in addition to penicillin and a host of other antibiotics, all belonging to what scientists refer to as the beta-lactam class of antibiotics.

Today, almost half of all staphylococcal infections in U.S. hospitals are caused by these methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains. By studying the bacteria's resistance mechanisms at the molecular level, researchers in the Laboratory of Microbiology at Rockefeller, working with researchers in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the Instituto de Tecnologia Qumica e Biolgica, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, hope to come up with new strategies for fighting such resilient microbes.

The beta-lactam class of antibiotics kills bacteria by binding to and inacti

Contact: Whitney Clavin
Rockefeller University

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