Better immune defense against anthrax

Published 7 September 2009

Scientists discover a gene in anthrax-causing bacteria may help defend against this form of bio-warfare

Spread of the deadly disease anthrax by spores of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis is a known terrorism risk and protection includes finding ways to treat the disease, according to an academic paper reviewed by Faculty of 1000. Scientists from the University of California-San Diego have identified a gene in B. anthracis that not only contributes to the severity of the anthrax disease but also makes it more difficult for a patient’s immune system to fight the infection.

Mattias Collin, of Lund University, and Marc A. Williams, of the University of Rochester, praised the study as “a true tour de force” on the Faculty of 1000 Biology Web site and noted that this might provide a new way to treat anthrax poisoning. If the gene, known as ClpX, is inactivated in the anthrax-causing bacteria, the body’s natural defense mechanism can better fight the disease.

This study has indeed identified a potential treasure trove in ClpX”, Colin and Williams wrote. While there is much left to learn about the exact mechanism the bacteria use ClpX to attack their hosts, the Faculty of 1000 members added the study will “unveil novel targets for therapeutic intervention in treating anthrax in human subjects.

-read more in Shauna M. McGillivray et al., “ClpX Contributes to Innate Defense Peptide Resistance and Virulence Phenotypes of Bacillus anthracis,” Journal of Innate Immunology 1, no. 5 (2009): 494-506 (DOI: 10.1159/000225955)