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OHSU study: Bacterial switching mechanism key to survival

PORTLAND, Ore. A discovery at Oregon Health & Science University is giving researchers detailed, visual clues into how gram-positive bacteria, including those that cause life-threatening diseases, can stay alive in adverse environmental conditions.

The findings, published recently in the journal Cell, could someday lead to the development of a new class of drugs that disrupt a crucial mechanism that bacteria use to adapt to available energy sources, and essentially starve these pathogens to death.

Using X-ray crystallography to examine the three-dimensional structure of proteins in atomic-level detail, scientists in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, OHSU School of Medicine, uncovered the mechanism behind the ability of "gram-positive" bacteria to switch their metabolic programs to take advantage of the best-available carbon source for energy.

Gram-positive bacteria include those that cause staph infections, strep throat, pneumonias, botulism, toxic shock syndrome and anthrax.

"What we did is solve the crystal structure of a protein-phosphoprotein-DNA complex," said Professor Richard Brennan, Ph.D., whose lab completed the work in collaboration with Assistant Professor Maria Schumacher, Ph.D., also at OHSU, and Professor Wolfgang Hillen at the University of Erlangen, Germany.

"The nice thing about crystallography is you have a very high-resolution picture that gives you a detailed view of the molecules that ultimately cause specific biological responses."

The research team knew that infectious bacteria are highly resilient when hunting down and using other sources of carbon for energy when their staple supplies, such as the carbohydrate glucose, are low.

"Bacteria are out there in the real world fighting each other for limited sources of food. They also run into a whole bunch of different types of sugars, carbohydrates," Brennan said. "If they don't have glucose and they have access to anoth
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Contact: Jonathan Modie
modiej@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
21-Oct-2004


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