The discovery, made by scientists at Colorado State University's Mycobacteria Research Laboratory, centers around a group of proteins that scientists have studied for years. However, past research has focused solely on how these proteins, called antigen 85, help defend the body against TB. Antigen 85 activates the immune system after a person is exposed to mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes the disease.
But recently, microbiologists John Belisle, Varalakshmi Vissa and Gurdyal Besra discovered the set of proteins has another face. Antigen 85 also plays a key role in protecting the tuberculosis bacteria from drugs, an unexpected finding that can help develop new treatments that specifically inhibit this function.
"When we confirmed what we had, we were shocked," Belisle said. "This is a major protein that has been studied widely for years in relation to its protective capabilities against TB. It wasn't until we purified the proteins associated with this enzymatic activity that we realized antigen 85 has two very different roles."
In the study, Belisle and his colleagues confirmed that antigen 85 also functions as an enzyme in forming and maintaining the TB bacteria's waxy and tough cell wall, which is composed of intricately linked mycolic acids. This tight web makes the cell wall virtually impermeable to many drugs, making the disease difficult to treat.
In addition, the team's study identified key regions of antigen 85
proteins that are responsible for these important enzymatic activities. Now that
it's known what areas of the proteins carry out their designated function, the
researchers now are working with two pharmaceutical companies to create drugs
that "turn off" antigen 85's role in keeping the bacteria aliv
Contact: Carrie Schafer
Colorado State University