New research from the University of Manchester may lead to the development of anti-infective drugs as alternatives to antibiotics.
Scientists from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the university have discovered a cell weakness that bacteria called Listeria are able to exploit to cause and spread infection.
Researchers believe the overuse of antibiotics in the body has led to resistance, and that their findings suggest that moves towards new anti-infective drugs may provide the alternative.
Listeria is a potentially deadly group of bacteria that can cause listeriosis in humans when digested, and they are able to spread infection by hitching a ride on a naturally occurring protein called calpain.
Lead researcher Dr David Brough said: “Bacteria produce a number of chemicals that allow them to invade a host and to establish an infection.
“The chemicals produced depend upon many factors, such as the species of bacteria, the type of host, and also whether the infection grows inside or outside a cell.
“We have investigated the growth of Listeria, a pathogenic bacterium that grows inside cells. An essential step for its growth, and thus the infection, is the bacteria’s ability to move from within one compartment in a cell to another.
“We discovered that in order for this particular type of bacteria to move and to grow some of the host cells biology is exploited, a protein called calpain. Without calpain the bacteria cannot move within the cell and so do not grow.
“This discovery highlights the possibility of using drugs against these host proteins to block infections, potentially reducing the need to use antibiotics.”
The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal.