Study suggests hormones may fight bacteria

March 30, 2010 at 1:16 PM
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DALLAS, March 30 (UPI) -- University of Texas scientists say the use of hormones, rather than antibiotics, might be a better way of treating food-borne bacterial infections.

The scientists from the university's Southwestern Medical Center said pathogenic bacteria in the gut recognize their surroundings by detecting hormonal signals from the host, prompting them to express lethal toxins. Intercepting those hormonal messages could be a more efficient way to treat food-caused infections where antibiotics do more harm than good, they said.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Vanessa Sperandio, said gut bacteria use a sensor in the bacterial surface to detect and respond to adrenaline released by the host. That triggers a chain of events that can result in the production of toxins.

Sperandio's group identified a molecule called LED209 that stops adrenaline binding to the sensor, preventing signaling events inside the bacterium, reducing toxin production and hindering bacteria from attaching effectively to the epithelial cells that line the gut.

The scientists said their discovery could lead to a new class of antimicrobial agents.

"Conventional antibiotics can trigger the SOS response in bacteria that actually enhances virulence," Sperandio said. "LED209, unlike antibiotics, does not kill or hinder E. coli growth and consequently does not promote expression of shiga toxin, which is the bacterium's defense mechanism."

Sperandio presented the study in Edinburgh, Scotland, last Sunday during a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

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