Frontlines | Out of Agonists Comes an Antagonist

Reprinted with permission from Nature

Pseudomonas aeruginosa can devastate the lungs of a person with cystic fibrosis or a suppressed immune system, for these bacteria are more than the sum of their parts. When their numbers reach a critical mass, signaling from accumulated microbial "autoinducers" triggers production of virulence factors and formation of a biofilm, a polysaccharide shield that protects the bacterial colony from an immune response and antibiotics. "Underneath the protective biofilm, the cells are happily reproducing, damaging the tissue and producing toxins," says Hiroaki Suga, associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

By synthesizing a library of compounds that interact with P. aeruginosa's autoinducer (N-acyl-homoserine lactone), Suga and his colleagues discovered a compound that blocks biofilm formation--suggesting a novel and powerful antibiotic approach by blocking the communication, called quorum sensing (K.M. Smith et...

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