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Anthrax stops body from fighting back, study shows

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - University of Florida researchers have uncovered how the inhaled form of anthrax disarms bacteria-fighting white blood cells before they can fend off the disease, which kills most victims within days.

The lethal toxin in anthrax paralyzes neutrophils, the white blood cells that act as the body's first defense against infection, by impairing how they build tiny filaments that allow them to crawl throughout the body and eat invading bacteria.

Just two hours of exposure to the lethal toxin blocks the neutrophils' ability to produce these filaments by nearly 60 percent, paralyzing them and allowing the anthrax to move freely in the body, according to research released last week in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The need to find new ways to treat victims of bioterrorism has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the anthrax attacks that killed five people exposed to inhalation anthrax through the mail. The UF findings could lead to treatments that block anthrax from paralyzing the much-needed neutrophils, said Dr. Frederick Southwick, division chief of infectious diseases at the UF College of Medicine and the lead author of the paper.

"If your neutrophils work normally, you might be able to shut down this infection," said Southwick, who worked on the study with a team of UF researchers and investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University. "The overall goal is to understand how anthrax toxins paralyze the immune system."

Researchers first noticed anthrax's effect on these white blood cells while reviewing the cases in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The victims did not have elevated white blood cell counts, typical for most infections, and a large number of the inhaled anthrax bacteria had spread from the lungs into the bloodstream, which is unusual, Southwick said.

This led researchers to believe anthrax may be impairing the cells' abil
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Contact: April Frawley Birdwell
Afrawley@vpha.health.ufl.edu
352-273-5817
University of Florida
6-Sep-2005


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