Scientists Report Gains in Knowledge of Bacterium

October 24, 2001 | Source: New York Times

Scientists reported two major advances yesterday in their understanding of the anthrax bacterium — discoveries that could lead to the development of drugs custom-designed to interfere with the anthrax toxin at different stages of its operation.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of Wisconsin said that after a decade’s search they had found the receptor protein on the surface of cells that was targeted by the anthrax toxin. The part of the protein that sticks out of the cell could be manufactured as a drug and injected into the bloodstream; the anthrax toxin might then attack the drug instead of living cells.

The other advance reported yesterday was the determination of the exact three-dimensional structure of the lethal factor, the component of anthrax toxin that is injected into certain cells of the immune system. The factor destroys the cells, forcing them in their death throes to release an excessive amount of natural inflammatory agents that throw the body into lethal shock.

This information will enable drug designers to synthesize small chemicals that would interact with lethal factor and block its function.

Related articles:

Anthrax action shapes up, Nature, Oct. 24, 2001