Bacteria recognize antimicrobials, respond with counter-defenses

Many living things, from fruit flies to people, naturally produce disease-fighting chemicals, called antimicrobial peptides, to kill harmful bacteria. In a counter move, some disease-causing bacteria have evolved microbial detectors. The bacteria sense the presence of antimicrobial peptides as a warning signal. The alarm sets off a reaction inside the bacteria to avoid destruction. Salmonella typhimurium can contaminate meats such as beef, pork, and chicken, as well as cereals and other foods, and cause severe intestinal illness. Certain strains of the bacteria are difficult to treat, and are behind the increase of salmonellosis in people. Some food science institutes anticipate that virulent strains of salmonella will become more common throughout the food chain. Learning how this sometimes deadly organism fights back against the immune system may lead to treatments that get around bacterial resistance.

Work in this area may also suggest ways other disease-causing Gram-negative bacteria maintain a stronghold in the midst of the body’s attempts to get rid of them. Strangely enough, the same molecules that the body sends out to help destroy salmonella inadvertently launch bacterial defenses.
It is as if missles armed, rather than demolished, the target. The body’s antimicrobial peptides bind to an enzyme, PhoQ, which acts as a watchtower and interceptor near the surface of bacterial cell membranes. The peptide binding activates PhoQ, which sets off a cascade of signals. The signals turn on a large set of bacterial genes. Some of the genes are responsible for products that fortify the bacterial cell surface and protect the bacteria from being killed.

Science Daily
September 13, 2005

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