Research Reveals Mechanism by Which Bacteria May Defeat Drugs That Fight Cystic Fibrosis

University of Montana (UM) researchers and their partners have discovered a strategy used by bacteria to defeat antibiotics and other drugs used to combat infections afflicting people with cystic fibrosis. The research was published online on February 23, 2021 in Cell Reports. The open-access paper is titled "P. aeruginosa Aggregates in Cystic-Fibrosis Sputum Produce Exopolysaccharides That Likely Impede Current Therapies." Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits a person's ability to breathe over time. A common strain of bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, often thrives in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis, as well as in wounds from burns or diabetic ulcers. Once a P. aeruginosa infection is established, it can be incredibly difficult to cure, despite repeated courses of antibiotics. Laura Jennings (photo), PhD, a Research Assistant Professor in UM's Division of Biological Sciences and an affiliate with the University's Center for Translational Medicine, said her research, conducted with colleagues, showed that the stubborn germs living in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients create a self-produced carbohydrate slime. And this slime makes the bacteria more resistant to the antibiotics prescribed by doctors, as well as drugs that reduce the thickness of mucus. "We found the first direct evidence that these carbohydrates are produced at the sites of infection," Dr. Jennings said. "We showed that one of the carbohydrates, called Pel, sticks to extracellular DNA, which is abundant in the thick mucus secretions prominent in cystic fibrosis lungs.”
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