UCSD researchers find promising new avenues for treating infections

A study by University of California, San Diego biochemists explains why infections of Pseudomonas bacteria, which affect 200,000 hospitalized patients each year in the United States, can be so dangerous to cells within the body, and points to new ways to treat those infections.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacterium, can infect nearly every part of the body and produces toxins that damage tissues. In the study to be published in the October 17th issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the researchers report that when the bacterium injects a toxin called "ExoU" with a tiny needle-like structure into cells, the toxin degrades phospholipids-greasy molecules that are a key component of cell membranes. They also found that chemicals known to block proteins that degrade phospholipids could save cells that would otherwise die. An early on-line version of the paper is available at http://www.jbc.org/cgi/reprint/M302472200v2.

"We have found that the toxin, which is associated with 90 percent of the severe cases of Pseudomonas infections, kills cells by targeting a component of the cell membrane," says Partho Ghosh, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry in UCSD's Division of Physical Sciences who headed the research team. "We have been able to identify chemicals that protect cells from the effects of the toxin, raising the possibility of a novel mode of treatment for these infections."

P. aeruginosa are widespread and, while these bacteria rarely affect healthy people, they are a serious problem for cystic fibrosis, AIDS, burn and chemotherapy patients and others with weakened immune systems. For example, 50 percent of deaths from AIDS are associated with P. aeruginosa infections and these bacteria are the leading cause of pneumonia contracted in intensive care units.

Furthermore, treating these infections is often problematic due to the antibiotic resistance of the bac

Contact: Sherry Seethaler
858 534-4656
University of California - San Diego

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