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Study by US, Hebrew University scientists sheds light on how bacteria persist despite antibiotics

Persistence pays off for bacteria as well as people. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Rockefeller University in New York have demonstrated the constant presence of antibiotic-tolerant "persistent cells" within bacteria colonies and have shown, through mathematical modeling, how these cells develop into "normal" cells following their survival of even heavy dosages of antibiotics.

The findings have consequences for development of new tactics for overcoming the common problem of resistance by bacteria to medicinal treatment.

It has been known for some time that when an antibiotic is administered to counteract a specific bacteria, not all of the bacterial cells may die. Persistent cells can remain that will reinfect the patient later -- the condition we commonly refer to as relapse. What was not known was the exact nature of these persistent cells nor how they function.

In their research with E-coli bacteria, the Hebrew University and Rockefeller University researchers discovered that persistent cells are a kind of reserve population that is constantly being produced within bacteria, regardless of whether the bacteria are being attacked by an antibiotic or not. These cells are slow-growing and apparently because of their "retarded" or "non-mature" state are not susceptible to antibiotics.

Translating their observations into a mathematical model, the researchers have shown how these persistent cells slowly but surely continue growing until they reach a "normal" growth stage. At that point, the former persistent cells are now themselves susceptible to antibiotic attack.

The work of the researchers Prof. Nathalie Questembert-Balaban, head of the biophysics laboratories at the Hebrew University Racah Institute of Physics; Prof. Stanislas Leibler of Rockefeller University; and his students Jack Merrin, Remy Chait and Lukasz Kowalik appeared in a recent issue of Science magazine.

Prof. Balaban o
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Contact: Jerry Barach
jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il
972-2-5882904
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
9-Dec-2004


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