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Unlocking the secrets of anthrax toxicity

Identification of the components of the anthrax toxin holds out hope for the rational drug design of a new generation of antibiotics.

Vicki Glaser(vpglaser@aol.com)

In an elegant piece of deadly biology, the anthrax-causing bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, produces three proteins that can kill its host. One of these proteins, called protective antigen (PA), is a little like a Trojan horse in that it smuggles the other two proteins — lethal factor (LF) and oedemal factor (OF) — into the host cell. Once in the cell, LF and OF set in motion a train of potentially fatal events.

Two papers to be published in 8 November Nature (and currently online ahead of publication), reveal new details of the biology of the anthrax toxin and thereby provide academics and industrialists alike with information that will help them devise strategies to defeat anthrax.

In the first paper Kenneth Bradley and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report the identification and isolation of the genetic code for anthrax toxin receptor (ATR) on the surface of eukaryotic cells that...

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