They can kill Bacillus anthracis by producing a protein called alpha-defensin. This discovery might now pave the way towards the development of new therapiesfor the fatal lung form of anthrax.
Bacillus anthracis is the causative agent of anthrax. What makes Bacillus anthracis especially dangerous is that these bacteria can form spores. The spores are extremely resistant against environmental stress and can survive for years.Infection with Bacillus anthracis can take place either via the lung or through the skin. Interestingly, the lung form of anthrax is almost always fatal, whereas skin infections remain localized and are rarely lethal. In contrast to the lung form, the skin form of anthrax can be treated without problems and most patients recover. During the past few years, Bacillus anthracis has also been used as a weapon for bioterrorism. Anthrax spores were sent in envelopes and inhaled and resulted in the death of 5 people in the USA.
The findings of the lab of Arturo Zychlinsky now help clarifying why the skin form is harmless in contrast
to the lung form. After a skin infection with Bacillus anthracis, neutrophils are recruited to the site of
infection. Neutrophils are white blood cells that can identify and kill microbes. In the skin, neutrophils take
up the spores, which germinate inside the neutrophil to a vegetative ("growing") bacterium. This vegetative
bacterium is then attacked and killed within the neutrophil. The scientists succeeded in identifying the
substance responsible for the killing of the bacteria. After fractionation of neutrophil components only one
protein remained which is sufficient for killing Bacillus anthracis: alpha-d
Contact: Prof. Dr. Arturo Zychlinsky