'Conversation stoppers' fight deadly bacterial infections

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 10 -- Bacterial infections are becoming more deadly worldwide due to increased resistance to antibiotics. Now, chemists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a powerful strategy to fight these deadly infections: Instead of killing the bacteria directly, the scientists designed a group of compounds that can block the chemical signals that the bacteria use to communicate in an effort to stop their spread.

These compounds, small organic molecules that they call 'conversation stoppers,' could help deliver a powerful one-two punch to knock out deadly infections when combined with the killing power of antibiotics, the scientists say. In addition, these 'conversation stoppers' do not target bacterial growth, so the potential for the development of bacterial resistance is minimized. This research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, could lead to new drugs to fight infections, was described today at the 232nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"There is an urgent, global need for new antibacterial therapies," says study leader Helen Blackwell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry at the University. "The ability to interfere with bacterial virulence by intercepting bacterial communication networks represents a new therapeutic approach and is clinically timely."

Bacteria use chemical signals to initiate the majority of human infections. When these signals reach a certain threshold (in a process known as quorum sensing), pathogenic bacteria will change their mode of growth and produce virulence factors that lead to infection. These chemical signals also trigger the bacteria to produce slimy biofilms that cloak the bacteria and make the colony physically resistant to antibiotics.

Attempts to block bacterial quorum sensing are being conducted by a growing number of research groups. Many of these studies have focused on a group of small molecules called N-acy


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